In the month of April 2011, Ministry of Information Technology and Communications issued new rules and regulations on Internet usage in India called as “IT rules 2011”. Many criticisms are being raised by Internet access providers and social networks, as severe threat is being posed by these rules to the freedom of speech.
Since the 2008 bomb blasting in Mumbai, the Indian government has been tightening the Internet surveillance and legislation, including the 2000 Information Technology Act. The Internet service providers are of opinion that, national security should be protected, but not at the expense of free speech and protection of personal data of Internet users.
According to the new rules, the Internet sites should withdraw offensive content, which includes, “obscene,” “libelous,” “harassing,” “harms minors,” “hateful” or “infringes copyright”, within 36 hours of being notified by the authorities or else they will be prosecuted. Internet access providers and social networks should also state that, such content is banned in their terms of services.
The new rules are turning technical intermediaries like, search engines, access providers, telecom companies and social networks into Internet policemen. There has been strong criticism of the rules from the companies affected and they also feel that the definition of illegal content is very vague.
According to the IAMAI (Internet and Mobile Association of India), these rules will restrict the social network development in India. Google has also opined that a free and open Internet is crucial for protecting the freedom of expression and also digital economy growth. The introduction of these new set of rules will only encourage self-censorship, thus reducing the free flow of information. These affected companies have suggested the government that the regulatory framework should help in protecting the Internet platforms and also the ability of the people to access information.
In spite of numerous objections being raised about these rules, the government has rejected all the criticisms on 11th May 2011, and stated that it is fully committed to citizen’s rights of freedom of speech and expression.