whenever I click on the bookmark, pertaining to my blog, the window that opens on my computer screen is quite different from that of any other reader of my blog. What I get on my screen is called a ‘Dashboard.’ Actually, I do not have even an iota of the idea, as to why it is called so. It is part of the internet jargon and I am using it, because everyone else seems to be using it. The dashboard actually presents details and statistics about my blog in a nutshell. It also has conveniently located set of tools to modify and change my blog. Dashboard is usually provided by the blog platform provider for convenience of the blogger. There are many such platform providers available on the internet today, out of which, Google and WordPress are two major players. Since I have been using WordPress for my blogs for last two years, the most common web site on my computer screen most of the time of the day is the WordPress dashboard.
WordPress editors always provide some useful and very relevant information on the dashboard. This may typically be like names of the blogs being read by large number of readers or the names of new blogs just received by them. They sometimes also provide a list of what is hot? This facility helps me many times to update my information about the blogger’s world and many a times, I have found very interesting new blogs without any search or research. However, I have been noticing a disturbing development since last few months. I have found few new blogs, which under the disguise of telling the truth, have been actually trying to do several things that are not very palatable to me. These blogs try to promote a particular way of political thinking or damn the historical information about India and try to change it so as to suit their purpose. They appear to be promoting racism and try to spread poisonous propaganda and hatred within India’s castes and religions. Today, it is impossible to write and spread such kind of hate materials in the print media from India, as it is well controlled by the various codes of conduct and also the Indian Government’s laws and rules. However, no rules or codes of conduct are in force today in India for the matter published on the Internet. These ‘Yellow Journalists” seem to take full advantage of this free for all situation and continue to write and spread such hate materials. Even though the platform providers on the internet, provide good filters today, to remove spam and pornographic writings, these hate messages are difficult to remove and go through all spam filters.
In India only one legal act is available today for controlling the Cyber space. The act known as Information Technology Amendment Act, 2008 was implemented about three years ago. With the Internet usage situation, that exists in India today, it is found to have no effective controls at all. There are more than fourteen different languages spoken in India and with abundant availability of language software, one can easily write on the internet in any of the common India languages. This means that there are blogs written in fourteen languages, there are discussion forums in which people express their opinions in fourteen different languages. Though it is an excellent media for the promotion and growth of free ideas and thoughts, few perverts also seem to take and enjoy the free ride. Indian Government, perhaps realizing the dangerous implications of keeping this important media totally uncontrolled, now proposes to amend the Information Technology Amendment Act, 2008, with further amendments to bring the situation under control.
I think that Bureaucracy is a very queer kind of animal. To kill a fly it would start with an howitzer. It is therefore no wonder that the proposed changes under Information Technology Amendment Act, 2008 are so drastic that if implemented, may see the demise of the blogging community itself. Under the draft rules, a new term is coined as an ‘intermediary’ and is defined as any entity which on behalf of another, receives, stores or transmits any electronic record. This would effectively mean that telecommunication networks, web-hosting and internet service providers, search engines, online payment and auction sites and also cyber cafes would all fall under this definition of an intermediaries. One can certainly say that there is nothing wrong with this definition of a new entity. These intermediaries are controlled by several clauses of the Information Technology Amendment act 2008. The laws on intermediaries and the law on cyber cafés, have been issued under Section 79 (Liability of Intermediaries) of the IT Act. The one on reasonable security practices has been issued under Section 43A. No doubt, all this is good and would impart effective regulation of the Cyber media.
However now comes the queer part of the proposed amendment. Poor blogger like me, who enjoys, putting on Internet, few stray and random thought from his mind, has been also defined as an intermediary and find himself in the exalted company of Telecom operators like Vodafone or Internet service providers like Google.
The proposed law expects all intermediaries to act like policemen, ever watchful to see that no materials which contravene the relative clauses of the law, are put on their service. Since bloggers are also intermediaries, it becomes the duty of the blogger like me to see that nothing objectionable is put on my blog, either as a post or even as a comment or reaction from any reader. On the face of it this looks pretty simple isn’t it? But I can assure you that it is not. How on earth am I supposed to know if something on my blog violates the law? How can I find out whether the content or comment on my blog is defamatory or not? It is the job of the legal experts and Government machinery with their vast resources to determine such things. How can a poor blogger with almost zero resources, could ever carry out such a job?
I understand that as a blogger, It is my duty to see that all materials put on my blog are within parameters of decency and do no go against the laws of my country. But I can do no more. If I am expected to be a policeman, I would rather shut shop and close my blog. This ‘One size fits all’ way of thinking for treating everyone using the internet, could mean the end of free and fair development of thought in the Indian Cyber space.
There are further complications. Internet is a truly global phenomenon. How can Indian laws be applied to a service provider located for example in United states? If a blogger like me puts his blog on the platform provided by a provider from some other country, how can he oversee that no Indian laws are violated. The approach of the proposed amendment to simplify things and put them under single omnibus category, would certainly lead to complete uncertainty and chaos.
Constitution of India grants all Indian citizens, freedom of speech as a basic right. I have least doubt in my mind that the proposed amendments need to be debated properly and amended suitably before they are put into force. Introduction in the existing form would be disastrous for the bloggers and the Indian Cyber world and would mean denial of their basic right, The freedom of speech.
12 March 2011