New Delhi: The government’s pledge to review plans to introduce curbs on Internet freedom persuaded the opposition to join the treasury benches in defeating a statutory motion that sought to annul the intermediary country’s information technology, or IT, rules.
The motion in the Rajya Sabha came on a day when activists hacked the websites of the Supreme Court and the Congress party to register their protest against the government’s bid to curb online access after several video sharing websites were banned by a legal order.
Seeking consensus: Technology minister Kapil Sibal. By Pradeep Gaur/Mint
This attack came amid the censorship debate in the country sharpening dramatically, with the government’s various attempts in the past to regulate Internet content being construed as measures towards impinging freedom of speech and expression in the country.
The statutory motion was moved by P. Rajeeve, Rajya Sabha member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and sought to annul the so-called IT (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011, alleging they would lead to “private censorship”.
The rules were notified in April 2011 but led to outrage in India’s Internet community as they require the hosts or the owners of the websites to take action against “objectionable content” within 36 hours of receiving a complaint.
And though the rules are aimed at ensuring due diligence by intermediaries—including telcos, Internet and web-hosting service providers and search engines—they could also lead to censorship with some intermediaries complying with requests to ban websites in a bid to avoid litigation.
Rajeeve’s motion was defeated after communications and technology minister Kapil Sibal assured the house he would seek the views of members of Parliament, industry bodies and other stakeholders on the rules and take action after a consensus emerges.
“Under the new media, there will be new challenges and we will need to be ready for the challenges,” Sibal told the House. After the consultations, he will present an agreed position before Parliament for further decision.
The websites of the Supreme Court and the ruling party were attacked.
The following message was posted on Twitter: “Anonymous Operations@Anon_Central: Namaste #India, your time has come to trash the current government and install a new one. Good luck. #SaveTPB #Anonymous (official twitter handle of anonymous).”
The Anonymous Internet hacker group retaliates against anti-digital piracy campaigns, including bans or censorship of some torrent (peer-to-peer networking) and video-sharing sites, including The Pirate Bay and Vimeo.
In a video posted by Anonymous and telecast by NDTV, the group said, “The department of telecom, has ordered all Internet service providers in India to block access to all file-sharing websites... We cannot let any censorship happen.” The video said this was similar to actions by the UK high court.
It signed off by saying: “We will not let this go, we are Anonymous... Expect us. Operation India engaged.”
Mint reported on 10 May that Reliance Entertainment Pvt. Ltd had got a court order to block these sites ahead of its coming film releases to combat piracy.
Court-decreed bans are implemented by the department of telecommunications, or DoT. A Reliance Entertainment official had earlier told Mint that even though the directions are only for blocking content related to the company’s films, Internet Services Providers, or ISPs, sometimes block entire websites in response.
While Pirate Bay is a torrent website, Vimeo is largely used by independent filmmakers to share their work.
“This attack should not be seen as a very routine attack,” said cyberlaw expert and Supreme Court lawyer Pavan Duggal. It takes place as the intermediary rules under the Amended Information Technology Act 2000 (now known as IT Act 2008) have come into sharp focus, in terms of being very broad in their ambit.
“By and large, the impression is that India is going in the direction of censorship,” he said.
The issue of censorship came to prominence in December last year when Sibal said the government will evolve “guidelines” for social media companies after they had refused to comply with the government over banning “objectionable content”, some of it pertaining to senior Congress leaders such as Sonia Gandhi.
Criminal proceedings followed against companies such as Facebook and Google in the Delhi high court.
“These attacks (by hackers like the Anonymous group) are nothing but a symbolic representation from a group, which believes this is one way of drawing attention of not just the Indian government but the nation as a whole,” said Duggal. He added that though India as a democracy is not committed to Internet censorship, there are certain rules and regulations that “I distinctly believe need to be appropriately tweaked. At no point of time, the Internet as a phenomenon can be completely controlled by the government”.
Campaigns by Anonymous in India are not new. According to digital media news website MediaNama, Anonymous’ last one was in June 2011, when it hacked the National Informatics Centre website because of the police action against Baba Ramdev’s anti-corruption campaign.
The group had also announced its plans for Operation India Against Corruption on Twitter and Facebook.
The hacking of government websites in the country has increased with around 112 such instances in the first three months of the year, which included those of the ministries of finance, health and human resource development, besides the Planning Commission.
This compares with the 117 government websites targeted in the six months between January and June last year.
The blocking of video-sharing websites through court order is the latest tack of the entertainment industry to curtail piracy of films and music over the Internet.