To blog or not to block? That is the question

April 7th, 2011

What is with mandarins in Delhi that when it comes to the digital world? They are all only to ready to regulate, monitor and control content while allowing traditional print and electronic media to remain ‘self regulating’ in nature, and giving the likes of paid news a free run. After all many of them have their own blogs, Facebook pages and twitter handles.

By now, it is common knowledge that in the internet, mobile and social media world everyone is a reader, viewer and publisher. The blogger community has given power to anyone with an email id and an ability to put down words on a screen to become both an electronic “publisher” and “distributor” at the same time. The interaction between “receiving” data and its “publishing” it is where the core of the law and its interpretation should focus at this point. What is clear is that each side has its rights; the online publisher has freedom of expression and the receiver or public has the right to be safe and secure from harm in his electronic space.

A comparable situation in the real world is when a newspaper editor or publisher is not be held directly responsible, under existing legal jurisprudence, when their classifieds section carries fairly ‘explicit’ ads of massage parlours or escort services and other objectionable material. Similarly in the digital or electronic world, if users send objectionable text, voice or multimedia material over the net, mobile phone, telephone lines, then can the local telephone company, internet service provider or spectrum licensees or blog site or website be held directly responsible? In such cases, the spirit and principle of section 79 of the IT Act ought to kick in and restrict the direct liability of the service provider or intermediary.

Provisions of law that attempt to give one side or the other an unreasonable burden in conducting its business are doomed to failure.

Certain definitions and provisions of the Cyber Act 2000, in their current form are clearly limiting or burdensome. Over-enthusiastic or inadequate use and interpretation of sections 67 and 79 of the IT Act could have a bearing on direct responsibility and liability issues affecting evolving interactive service intermediaries such as web logs, search engines, news hopper services, mobile value-added service providers, and even mobile virtual network operators.

Notwithstanding the ambiguity of privacy laws in general in India — as applicable under Article 21 of the Constitution — is that cyber laws must not hint at censorship or impinge on the basic right of speech and expression. They may regulate the label on the “packaging” but never the content.

The author is co-founder of Paymate, a wireless transactions platform provider. Views expressed are his own.

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