‘Government should have immediately authorised screening messages’

Proactive action by internet service providers could have cut short the number of rumours that caused the exodus from Bangalore of people from the northeast, say lawyers.

While sites such as Facebook and Twitter have now decided to block web pages containing any content that could incite violence, it raises the crucial point that this step could have been carried out before the wave of panic took over the city.

Union government officials should have immediately authorised the service providers to block the transmission of the web pages and sites that carried the rumours, said advocate Muralidhara.

According to the “IT Rules 2011” under the Information Technology Act (ITA), 2000, internet companies are required to remove any content within 36 hours if the companies have been informed by the authorities that the content is considered objectionable, harmful or defamatory in any manner. The companies could also terminate access to users.

Advocate and vice-president of Indian Association of Lawyers Niloufer Bhagawat said that a nodal agency and a critical infrastructure agency which have the power to block such messages could have recommended the suggestion as well. “However, they did not respond fast enough on the issue,” she said.

The cyberspace managed by private companies has not been used for the reasons they were given its management in the first place, she said.

A private service provider told The Hindu that the company cannot resort to blocking or screening of messages unless a police complaint is registered.

He said that it is difficult to view the content of each message that is transmitted. Besides, it also concerns the privacy of individuals, he added.

An official of a service provider said that it is difficult to keep track of the content when there is a large consumer-base as well. “To trace such messages, we need to receive a request from the police. In this case, a request was sent by the Police Commissioner’s office,” he said.

He said that when any individual approaches the police with a complaint referring to the message sent by a particular number, the nodal officer is notified first, following which a letter is sent to the service providers to trace the number concerned. “We then provide the contact details after tracing the number,” he said.

“The owners of five numbers which spread the rumours were traced by us,” the official added.

The accused involved in the transmission of such messages can be punished under Section 66 (A) of the Information Technology Act (2000).

According to Section 66 (A) under sub-clause (b), “Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device, any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will,” can be punished under the Act up to three years and with a fine of Rs. 5 lakh.

The former Superintendent of Police Kunigal Srikanta, who was part of the Cyber Crime police force in Bangalore, said that Email Spoofing when an email message appears to have originated from one source when it actually was sent from another source — is usually resorted to when sensitive information has to be released.

“To trace the origin of such messages, full headers are required to trace the IP address. But the address is difficult to procure as it could mean a breach of confidentiality,” he said.