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Govt to re-look at IT rules after pressure from Opposition

NEW DELHI: In the line of Opposition fire for 'censoring internet,' the government has agreed to take a re-look at the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules enforced in April 2011. A motion to annul the rules was moved by CPM's P Rajeev in the Rajya Sabha. While the leader of Opposition in the House, Arun Jaitley, said as it was impossible to defy technology, "the days of censorship and days of withholding information were all over", Rajeev described the rules as "violation of the Constitution, which gives freedom of speech".

Jaitley suggested the government assure the House that it would re-examine the rules, following which communications and information technology minister Kapil Sibal was spared the possible embarrassment of annulling the rules. At the end of a two-hour debate, Sibal assured members that their concerns would be taken into consideration and that they would be invited to a meeting of all stakeholders to discuss the issue. He asked MPs to put down their objections in writing and words they had reservations about. "Jaitley, in his inimitable style, agreed and cautioned, and rightly so, that the interpretation of terms may lead to harassment and curtailment of free speech," Sibal said. The minister also congratulated Rajeev for focusing on the subordinate legislation.

Internet rules require that all intermediaries, which include those who provide internet, telecom, e-mail or blogging services, and cyber cafes, have to remove content that is, "grossly harmful, harassing, blasphemous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, pedophilic, libellous, invasive of another's privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically objectionable, disparaging, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, or otherwise unlawful in any manner whatever."

These intermediaries will rely on a system of internal alerts, an inbuilt alarm system when certain words are used, and external alerts, when attention is drawn to such content. "I always believe that if the internet had been in existence, the Internal Emergency of 1975 would have been a big fiasco," said Jaitley, who began his speech by complimenting Rajeev for "educating us" on the rule that Parliament has supervisory control as far as subordinate legislations were concerned.

Jaitley said awe could be created by censoring print or electronic media, but internet cannot be controlled. "Therefore, there would be a free flow of information; information would come from all over the world. There would be angry exchange of articles and the circulation would have been so wide that the whole fear psychosis which was built up would itself have been demolished. Therefore, these institutions which have come up by virtue of technology have a great role to play," he said.

However, he tried to take a 'balanced approach' by speaking of "the other danger... a situation of incitement of certain offences in society. There is hate speech. There is religious hatred being created. There is caste hatred being created. There is incitement to violence being created. You can have a flow of information which can then end up creating a frenzy, as far as society is concerned."


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