The Assam exodus has led to the blocking of several websites, pseudo and generic handles on the social media. Going through the debates on the social media, especially Twitter, it is clear that there is an outrage over the actions of the government as many feel that not only accounts spreading hate messages have been blocked, but some allege that the government is blocking those who have criticized the government.
To begin with, one must realise that this the first big cyber warfare that India has faced and this is probably for the first time in history that there is a unique combination of mobile and cyber technology that has been used to target the integrity of India. Yes, it is true that we have been found wanting and asleep for a month as the response mechanism to what had commenced against our nation a month back is pretty bad.
The government of India according to many decided to get into damage control mode and block various websites which were spreading hate messages. Although blocking is a temporary solution and an ineffective phenomenon, the more important thing is the lack of political will. We say lack of political will because there is proper course which guarantees strong legal action. This means that the crack in the armour have clearly been demonstrated and once we very sadly we must say that we have a toothless tiger in an IT law as most of the cyber crimes are bailable offences. Moreover an amendment when it comes to dealing with crimes committed on the social media and also on mobile phones is very much the need of the hour. To add to the misery we also are searching high and low for a national policy on cyber security and the nation is clueless as to how to respond in such a mobile and computer emergency.
While the government has gone about blacking out some websites, it also should think in a futuristic direction on how to protect our interests on cyber space. Once again the approach has been more reactionary.
According to IT law expert, Pavan Duggal, we have been soft on the intermediaries. The IT act has defined this and social media and mobile service providers come under the category of an intermediary. The law clearly states that there needs to be due diligence and the parameters require social media companies to notify the users that their networks will not be used to publish and transmit any content that is against the integrity of a nation. Despite this if somebody publishes such content and the government notifies these companies, they are required to act within 36 hours, Duggal also points out.
It is crystal clear under the Indian Law and also the IT Act that this law is applicable to any person of any nationality who violates or whose services are within a network within India. This would mean that the intermediaries need to block accounts in 36 hours of being notified if the person is threatening the security of the country. Facebook, twitter and also Youtube are all governed by this law in India. The law is crystal clear and India does not need to hold a begging bowl in case the companies are not responding to the government. The government well reserves the right to prosecute these companies in such an event of non compliance.
Duggal says that India needs to learn from the China experience. The Chinese are clear that if they are targeted on cyber space, then the compliance will be as per their law itself. The argument that these companies which are governed by the US law will not hold good. The Indian government reserves the right to stop them if they do not comply.
The law on pseudo and generic handles- The government began this campaign while acting in national interest. These companies according to experts need to cooperate with the government in matters that impact national interest.
Duggal feels that the government has not been too balanced while banning pseudo handles which have had nothing to do with national security. It is not a desirable development.
Now here is what the law has to state where pseudo handles are concerned. Creating a pseudo handle is violative of Section 66 A of the IT Act and those found guilty are liable to undergo imprisonment for three years and also cough up a fine. When someone creates a pseudo handle say in the name of the Prime Ministers office, he will either have to mention it clearly that this is an unofficial account or a pseudo handle. In the alternate he could also mention in every update or tweet that this is a pseudo handle. Now this is the law pertaining to the handle of a celebrity, authority or organisation.
However there are also the generic handles in which a person conceals his identity and uses some other name. The internet and the IT laws do provide for anonymity. This is not violative of the law, but then again one must draw a line and ensure that the freedom of speech given cannot be violative or abusive in nature.
The experts say that the freedom of speech on the internet needs to be protected and when there is a conflict between security and freedom of speech, the scales would obviously tilt in favour of defending national security. In simple terms it would mean that no matter what name you would tweet or update under, there would always be a distinction between normal messages, abusive messages and also disturbing national security. Although the IT act does provide for separate laws, the basic foundation would be under the Constitution of India covering the freedom of speech. It is clearly stated that freedom of speech and expression should be tempered with appropriate and reasonable restriction.
Duggal feels that the people need to appreciate that there is no absolute freedom of speech on the internet and it is capable of restriction. Although you do have a right to be anonymous on the web, it still does not give you the liberty to give out hate speeches and be abusive.