We at SFLC.in , have been crying ourselves hoarse, on the Government Of India’s clamp down on Freedom of Speech and Expression since April 2011 . Why April? In April, the Central Government notified the new Information Technology ( Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules . These Rules cast an obligation upon an intermediary to remove any content which may be unlawful, blasphemous, libellous, grossly harmful, harassing or disparaging. This removal of content was to be done on receiving a complaint by an affected party.
It bothers us. In our view, it is unconstitutional , arbitrary, and downright Orwellian. We think the right to freedom of expression is under threat. Sounds like a conspiracy theory, doesn’t it? But as a bunch of professionals working in the area of electronic civil liberties, we don’t think so. We also realize that most internet users could not grasp the significance of these Rules owing to the legalese involved.
Along comes the Union Minister ( and we swear we did not bribe him). He does in one press conference what we have been trying to do for the past nine months : Bring the issue of the Big Brother censoring the internet, into public cognizance.
Mr Sibal as reported in “The Hindu” ( 6 , December 2011) met senior functionaries of You Tube, Facebook, Google and Yahoo and a few others ( but the media reports completely ignored to cover other invited parties)asked them to evolve a mechanism to filter “disparaging” content related to politicians and religious figures. Though, in all honesty what the Hon’ble Minister has proposed is beyond the Rules itself. Although the deamnd is very different from the already allowed backdoor censorship through IT rules promulgated in April 2011, Yet, in a way, it illuminates the issue of pre-censorship on vague grounds. Thankful as we are to Mr Sibal, we would still like to know more about his meeting. In order to obtain this information we sent an RTI Application on the 6thof December,2011, itself, asking for :
Copy of the minutes of this meeting;
Details of the steps suggested by the Government to these websites on screening and filtering such content;
File notes if any, prepared in connection with this meeting.
This RTI application has been sent to Department of Information Technology and Department of Telecommunication. Why have we sent it to two departments? No, we are not jobless. It has been our experience that Ministries in the Government are RTI dodgers par excellence. So, its best to seek information from all concerned departments to uncover more about this meeting. Watch this space for further information.