Will BJP sarkar amend IT Act?

BY Geeta Seshu| IN Digital Media | 19/05/2014
MPs, who spoke up against the draconian provisions of the IT Act, are now in government
Will they seek to amend the act, asks GEETA SESHU

Some of the most stringent critics of the information Technology Act in the outgoing Lok Sabha have been from the party that is now all set to form the government at the Centre. How are they now going to ­­react to long-standing demands of internet activists to amend the act? 

The Information Technology Act 2000 was unanimously amended in 2008 - to include what turned out to be the most draconian provisions – on intermediary liability, data security, privacy, surveillance, the monitoring, interception and blocking of electronic communication and of course, the infamous Sec 66 A, which resulted in cases against cartoonists, professors who sent innocuous email forwards, two students who commented on the death of Sena leader Bal Thackeray, two Air India staffers involved in an intra-union dispute, an industrialist, who commented on the business interests of the son of then Union Home Minister, a citizen aggrieved at the laxity of traffic police in Chandigarh etc 

Unlike in the debates on the retention of sedition in post-colonial India, where some members of the government did admit needed a re-think, the IT Act was always stoutly defended by the ruling UPA. In the uproar over the arrest of the students from Palghar Maharashtra, then Union IT minister Kapil Sibal who conceded that the arrests were an over-reaction, stated that Sec 66A was needed for internet governance! 

In a petition against Internet companies filed by journalist Vinay Rai, the then government was quick to sanction prosecution of the companies and pressure was put on these ISPs to take down content. At first Google, and then several other ISPs, started to come out with their Transparency Reports and the ‘requests’ of the Indian government to take down content was often second to that of the United States. 

For the parties then in Opposition, this was of course rich fodder for attack.  The first serious move to challenge the act came from a supplementary motion moved in May 2012 in the Rajya Sabha by P Rajeev, the CPI(M) Rajya Sabha MP from Thrissur, Kerala, to annul the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011. 

In his address, P Rajeev said that that he was against control of the Internet. Speaking in support of the motion, the BJP’s Leader of the Oppositon in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said the rules were a threat to free speech and asked for a re-examination of the terms of restraint inherent in the rules. 

Other MPs also pitched in. The Independent MP from Karnataka, Rajeev Chandrashekhar, was a staunch critic of the IT Act and of the Indian government’s stand on internet governance. Chandrashekhar, who was earlier supporting the AAP, strongly pitched for Modi sarkar by March this year, just before the Lok Sabha polls, even posting a host of internet advertisements with him and Modi to vote for change.  

Now, the boot’s on the other foot. And with debates heating up internationally on all these and more aspects on internet governance, like net neutrality, surveillance, data security and privacy, intellectual property rights and copyright, how is the new government in India going to address these issues? 

Will they walk their talk when they were in opposition or will they calibrate their responses to suit their new dispensation? Let’s wait and see.

Subscribe To The Newsletter
The new term for self censorship is voluntary censorship, as proposed by companies like Netflix and Hotstar. ET reports that streaming video service Amazon Prime is opposing a move by its peers to adopt a voluntary censorship code in anticipation of the Indian government coming up with its own rules. Amazon is resisting because it fears that it may alienate paying subscribers.                   

Clearly, the run to the 2019 elections is on. A journalist received a call from someone saying they were from Aajtak channel and were conducting a survey, asking whom she was going to vote for in 2019. On being told that her vote was secret, the caller assumed she wasn't going to vote for 'Modiji'. The caller, a woman, also didn't identify herself. A month or two earlier the same journalist received a call, this time from a man, asking if she was going to vote for the BSP.                 

View More