Sunday, June 5, 2011
Cry over Censorship is Simply an Attempt to Evade Regulation by large online businesses
India notified new security amendments to its IT ACT on data privacy and regulation of online content. These amendments effectively states that websites shall inform users not to publish any material that is “blasphemous, would incite hatred, is ethnically objectionable, would infringe on patents, or threaten India’s unity or public order.” It also places liability on the intermediataries for content that falls into these non permitted categories. Obviously this move has raised hackles and cries of censorship from providers citing lack of control over what users publish and highlighting their efforts to filter or remove content that obviously violates certain principles based on reports from individuals or governments. These providers claim that such filteration would result in an economic slowdown as Internet growth would be curtailed based on what these providers consider as a restriction to the freedom of expression and advocate a regulatory framework which helps protect internet platforms and people’s abilities to access information.”
While I agree with the premise that users who post the content should be liable, the core issue is that the very same intermediataries have allowed them to post content using unverified and anonymous identities facilitating the use of their sites for objectionable activities. There is no intent to stop this practice. While self regulation is a good practice, the only real deterrent will be the threat of prosecution and this can happen only if the user is known and there is a uniform cyberlaw agreement between countries. Both of which are unlikely to happen in the near future.
A good regulatory framework would be one where users are liable when they can be identified and traced, and content hosters liable where the user is unverified or they fail to take action on censorship requests. This has to be balanced with checks to ensure that regulation does not become censorship in the hands of the Government.