Though a statutory motion moved by CPI(M) member from Kerala P. Rajeeve seeking to annul the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011, was defeated in the Rajya Sabha by voice vote last week, the broad-based discussion forced the government to assure the House that it would evolve a consensus on rules for control of internet content by talking to the industry, stakeholders and MPs.
“My assurance to this House is that I will request distinguished members to write letters to me objecting to any specific words, I will then call a meeting of the members as well as the industry and all the stakeholders. We will have a discussion and whatever consensus emerges, we will implement it,” Communications and Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal said on Thursday.
While lauding the CPI(M) member's efforts for having brought the rules to the attention of the House, Mr. Sibal also noted the word of caution by Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley that the restrictive words in the rules might lead to an interpretation which might lead to harassment and impact the right of free speech.
The Minister assured the House that “this government does not stand for censorship; this government does not stand for infringement of free speech. Indeed, this government does not stand for regulation of free speech.”
Pointing out that the government was dealing with a new medium, he said there was no registration of any these mediums in India and they were not subject to Indian laws, unlike the companies providing information through print and electronic media which were registered in India.
Asserting that there was no “infringement on the rights of the media at all” in the Information Technology Act and Rules, the Minister said there was no government intervention in any of this.
Seeking to dispel the impression that the government was interfering in the freedom of expression, he said the notion was “completely erroneous.” He said the government was informing the intermediary, consistent with the obligation of due diligence under Section 79 of the Act, that the intermediary was required to exercise due diligence in sensitive matters.
The rules have attracted criticism for imposing undue legal burdens on ‘intermediaries,' with analysts arguing that websites may end up proactively censoring content that they feel might be controversial.
The Minister said the rules were cleared by the committee of subordinate legislation, and it was not as if Parliament were not overseeing these rules. The rules were also discussed with industry bodies such as the CII and the Data Security Council of India. Citing legal provisions in Europe and the U.S., he said India was more liberal, and “we are proud of it.”
Mr. Rajeeve had said the rules were ultra vires of the provisions of the parent IT Act and violated the freedom of speech and expression. He demanded that the rules be done away with and noted that Parliament had powers to intervene in matters of subordinate legislation like this and asked the government to bring the required amendments instead of introducing such rules.