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Updated: August 2, 2012 03:29 IST

Sibal to hold roundtable to revisit IT Rules 2011

Shalini Singh
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Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal
Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal

Follows his assurance to Parliament for consultation with MPs, industry and stakeholders

Following an annulment motion against the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules 2011, moved by a Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal is holding a Roundtable on liability, due diligence and guidelines to be observed by intermediaries here on Thursday.

The Roundtable has invited the participation of all stakeholders, i.e. IT industry, IT intermediaries, political parties and others.

In an attempt to build political consensus, the Ministry for Parliamentary Affairs has also nominated several politicians who have shown interest in IT regulation and Internet governance, to participate in the Roundtable. It is unclear if the invitation extends to civil society and media though considering their direct engagement and linkages to the relevance of such guidelines, their participation in the Roundtable is desirable.

The entire issue of censorship and lack of accountability of governing bodies vis-à-vis the Internet in India was brought into sharp focus during a debate over the Intermediary Guidelines, which are part of the IT Act 2000. The questions raised during a Parliamentary debate were also related to issues of freedom of expression, both from the point of view of the government and other stakeholders.

The annulment motion was seen as the first enlightened attempt by free speech activists to have a discussion on the issues involved. Even though the motion was not carried, Parliament and citizens in general became aware of the concerns expressed by activists against certain provisions of the IT Act.

P. Rajeev, Member of Parliament, in his speech, supported Internet regulation but opposed control. In his view, the rules were in violation of the IT Act itself. Others who supported a review of the Intermediary Guidelines included Arun Jaitley of the Bharatiya Janata Party, D. Raja of the Communist Party of India and N.K. Singh of the Janata Dal.

Strong protests

Following strong protests, Mr. Sibal gave an assurance to Parliament that a meeting involving stakeholders, industry and members of Parliament would be called — following which, and based on a consensus, the government will implement changes to the specific language against which objections had been raised.

The fundamental opposition to the guidelines arises out of the fact that the guidelines lend themselves to wide-ranging and mostly an arbitrary set of possible violations, coupled with a high probability of misuse. Cyber cafes are also opposed to the language in the Rules, which is felt to be excessively intrusive and violates privacy of Internet users while in the cyber café. Fears over lack of accountability have also been raised in different fora by Internet activists.

A report that monitors the number and categories of requests sent by different governments to take down content in India, says that during the period January to June 2011, there were requests to remove 358 items and 68 content removal requests, 58% of which were fully or partially complied with. In addition there were government requests to remove youtube videos that were protests against local leaders or used offensive language against religious leaders, etc.

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