Pressure on private intermediaries to remove certain information in compliance with administrative censorship orders has increased since late 2009, with the implementation of the amended ITA. The revised law grants the MCIT authority to block internet material that is perceived to endanger public order or national security, requires companies to have a designated employee to receive government blocking requests, and assigns up to seven years’ imprisonment for representatives of a wide range of private service providers— including ISPs, search engines, and cybercafes—if they fail to comply with government blocking requests. While some observers acknowledge that incendiary online content could pose a real risk of violence, particularly given India’s history of periodic communal strife, press freedom and civil liberties advocates have raised concerns over the far-reaching scope of the ITA, its potential chilling effect, and the possibility that the authorities could abuse it to suppress political speech.When Google began reporting government requests for data and content removal in early 2010, India ranked third in the world for removal requests and fourth for data requests. Between July 1, 2009, and December 31, 2009, India had submitted 142 removal requests, of which 77.5 percent were fully or partially complied with. The requests related to the Blogger blog-hosting service, Book Search, Geo, SMS channels, web searches, YouTube, and especially Orkut.40 In one case that gained international attention, Google in September 2009 took down an Orkut group on which users had reportedly posted offensive comments about the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, who had been killed in a helicopter crash a few days earlier. Indian officials were apparently concerned that the comments could spark communal violence.Google has removed content in response to requests from various government authorities. For example, in January 2007 the company agreed to an arrangement allowing police forces to directly report objectionable content to Google and ask it for details regarding internet protocol (IP) addresses and service providers. By May of that year, Google had cooperated with the Mumbai police regarding online communities and Keating, “The List: Look Who’s Censoring the Internet Now.” K K. Sruthijith, “Govt Bans Popular Toon Porn Site Savitabhabhi.com; Mounting Concerns Over Censorship,” contentSutra, June 25, 2009, http://contentsutra.com/article/419-govt-bans-popular-toon-porn-site-savitabhabhi.com-mounting-concernover/Media/.
Amol Sharma and Jessica E. Vascellaro, “Google and India Test the Limits of Liberty,” Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB126239086161213013.html.
Google, “Transparency Report: Government Requests,” http://www.google.com/governmentrequests/.
Sharma and Vascellaro, “Google and India Test the Limits of Liberty.” INDIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net comments directed against the Indian historical figure Shivaji, right-wing leader Bal Thackeray, and dalit leader B. R. Ambedkar.Bloggers are rarely forced by the government or private individuals to take down their writings, but there have been a few instances in which this has occurred.43 For example, blogger Chetan Kunte criticized NDTV journalist Barkha Dutt for her station’s coverage of the November 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, accusing her of engaging in sensationalism and irresponsibly airing information about the movements of security forces.
Dutt and NDTV threatened to seek punitive measures against Kunte through the courts, and the blogger agreed to remove the critical content.
While online journalists and bloggers are not often required to censor their writing, it is understood that certain topics must be approached with caution. These include religion, communalism, the corporate-government nexus, links between government and organized crime, Kashmiri separatism, hostile rhetoric from Pakistan, and various forms of aggressive, demagogic speech. Such topics are indeed addressed by online writers, but they are handled carefully to avoid inciting violence, particularly by nonstate actors.
Highly partisan reporting and commentary abound on the Indian internet, stemming from real or perceived divisions between the government and the people, between ethnic and religious communities, and between India and some of its regional neighbors. Such material is especially common on left- or right-wing extremist sites and sites related to Kashmir.
The Indian blogosphere is quite active and eloquent, complementing the rise in internet use by different interest groups and civil society actors. However, the actual number of bloggers still appears to be quite small, and the blogosphere is fragmented given the large number of blogging platforms available.
Online communication and social-networking services are increasingly being used as means to organize politically. Various politicians, including the 87-year-old former deputy prime minister L. K. Advani,44 use social media and ICTs to reach out to voters. In the runup to the 2009 general elections, political parties and their allies mounted massive SMS campaigns to drum up support.45 Citizens also mounted online campaigns on various issues, including one protesting the phenomenon of accused or convicted criminals running for “Objectionable Postings on Shivaji, Thackeray: Cops Trace IP Addresses,” Expressindia.com, May 4, 2007, http://cities.expressindia.com/fullstory.phpnewsid=234691; “Google, Police to Clean Up Orkut,” Times of India, May 5, 2007, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Google_police_to_clean_up_Orkut/articleshow/2005902.cms.
Paul Bradshaw, “TV Station Forces Blogger to Withdraw Criticism of Its Coverage,” Online Journalism Blog, February 2, 2009, http://onlinejournalismblog.com/2009/02/02/tv-station-sues-blogger-for-criticising-its-coverage/.
Advani’s blog can be found at http://blog.lkadvani.in/.
“BJP Gets Help from Unofficial ‘SMS Campaign,’” Financial Express, February 24, 2009, http://www.financialexpress.com/news/bjp-gets-help-from-unofficial-sms-campaign/427422/; Joji Thomas Philip and Harsimran Singh, “Cellphone Users Bombarded With Political Info,” Economic Times, March 10, 2009, http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/News/News-By-Industry/Telecom/Cellphone-users-bombarded-with-politicalinfo/articleshow/4247903.cms.
INDIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net seats in Parliament. Other sites aimed to educate voters about candidates’ backgrounds,46 or aggregate election-related news articles.47 A collaborative online platform called Vote Report India allowed citizens to share information on violations of electoral rules using media including SMS, e-mail, and Twitter.VIOLATIONS OF USER RIGHTS The Indian constitution, particularly Article 19, protects freedom of speech and expression.49 Along with the right to life and liberty under Article 21, Article 19(1)(a) has also been held to apply to the privacy of telephone conversations, and established guidelines regulate the ability of state officials to intercept communications.ICT usage is governed primarily by the Telegraph Act, the penal code, the code of criminal procedure, and the ITA. The 2008 amendments to the ITA, which took effect in October 2009,51 raised concerns about an expansion of state surveillance capacity, including interception of SMS and e-mail messages. Several provisions of the revised law entail possible restrictions on users’ rights.
For example, the changes considerably broadened the scope of activities identified as criminal offenses under the act, which now include sending messages that are deemed offensive, dishonestly receiving stolen computer resources or communication devices, identity theft, impersonation, violation of bodily privacy, cyberterrorism, and the publication or transmission of sexually explicit material. The prescribed punishments vary, but many offenses carry up to three years in prison. Under the revised Section 80, lowerranking police officers are permitted to conduct personal searches and arrests without a warrant in public spaces and private businesses that are accessible to the public, provided there is a reasonable suspicion that a crime covered under the act has been or is about to be committed.
Section 69 expands the circumstances under which communications may be monitored, intercepted, and decrypted. Previously, such surveillance was governed by the 1885 Telegraph Act, which allowed it only during times of “public emergency” or in the “interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India.” The amended ITA drops these and other See Jaago Re at http://jaagore.com/.
One such site was Blogadda at http://indianelections.blogadda.com/.
See Vote Report India at http://votereport.in/.
PUCL v. Union of India (1997) 1 SCC 301. See also Vikram Raghavan, Communications Law in India (London: LexisNexis Butterworths, 2007), 760–761.
The amended act is available at http://www.naavi.org/ita_2008/ch1_2008.htm.
INDIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net limitations. Section 69B, for instance, allows the central government to collect traffic data from any computer source without a warrant, whether the data are in transit or in storage.Critics of the ITA amendments have also raised concerns that the law does not adequately protect personal information held by private corporations. Although the changes require corporations handling sensitive personal data to maintain “reasonable security practices and procedures,” the rules are not clearly defined, and it remains unclear how they will be enforced.Internet users have sporadically faced prosecution for online postings, and private companies hosting the content are obliged by law to hand over user information to the authorities. In September 2007, after Google and a major ISP cooperated with a police investigation, information-technology worker Lakshmana Kailash K was jailed for 50 days for allegedly defaming an Indian historical figure online. It later emerged that another person had posted the material, and Kailash was arrested based on the wrong IP address.54 In May 2008, two men were arrested and charged for posting derogatory comments about Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi on Orkut; the case is still pending.55 As in the 2007 case, Google, which owns Orkut, accommodated the authorities’ request for identity information.56 In July 2010, a magazine editor in the southern city of Kerala was arrested on defamation charges for an article posted on the magazine’s website about an Indian businessman residing in Abu Dhabi.In 2009, the Supreme Court ruled that both bloggers and moderators can face libel suits and even criminal prosecution for comments posted by other users on their websites.
The case stemmed from several anonymous comments criticizing the right-wing party Shiv Sena that appeared on a web community moderated by a 19-year-old from Kerala, Ajith D.
The party’s youth wing filed a criminal complaint against Ajith, who asked the Supreme Court to quash the case before it proceeded further, but the court rejected his request.The overall level of ICT surveillance in India remains unclear, though a series of scandals and new measures in recent years have raised concerns over wide powers granted to security agencies to monitor communications. Intercepts of telephone conversations are allowed under guidelines prescribed by the Supreme Court, and are admissible as evidence.
“Yes, Snooping’s Allowed,” Indian Express, February 6, 2009, http://www.indi.anexpress.com/news/yes-snoopingsallowed/419978/0.
Pavan Duggal, “We’re Not Keeping Pace,” Cyberlaws.net, http://www.cyberlaws.net/itamendments/TOI1.html, accessed January 8, 2011.
Ketan Tanna, “Wrong Man in Jail for 50 Days on Cyber Charge,” Times of India, November 3, 2007, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Wrong-man-in-jail-for-50-days-on-cyber-charge/articleshow/2513737.cms.
Gloria D Souza, “Man Jailed for Posting Obscene Content on Orkut,” Merinews, May 19, 2008, http://www.merinews.com/article/man-jailed-for-posting-obscene-content-on-orkut/134255.shtml.
John Kennedy, “India: Google Assists Police in Orkut User’s Arrest,” Global Voices Advocacy, May 22, 2008, http://advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org/2008/05/22/india-google-assists-police-in-orkut-users-arrest/.
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), “Editor’s Arrest Underlines Need for Defamation Law Reform,” International Freedom of Expression eXchange, July 5, 2010, http://www.ifex.org/india/2010/07/06/nandakumar_arrested/.
Shreya Roy Chowdhury, “Bloggers Unite Against SC Verdict,” Times of India, February 25, 2009, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/Bloggers-unite-against-SC-verdict/articleshow/4185938.cms#ixzz10pXLwgS6.
INDIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net For example, the MHA intercepted mobile-phone communications between the gunmen and their Pakistan-based handlers during the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008. These communications were then used as evidence in court.59 With respect to internet communications, anecdotal accounts indicate that the government’s Intelligence Bureau began using a keyword-based interception system in addition to targeted IP-address interception as far back as 2001.