Govt wants consensus on rules on internet content

The government said it does not stand for censorship and regulation of free speech and assured Rajya Sabha members that it will evolve a consensus.

Last Updated: May 17, 2012, 23:51 PM IST

New Delhi: The government Thursday said it does not stand for censorship and regulation of free speech and assured Rajya Sabha members that it will evolve a consensus on guidelines on internet content after talking to various stakeholders, including industry representatives.

Communications and IT Minister Kapil Sibal said the rules and guidelines were cleared by the committee on subordinate legislation but the government was willing to go by consensus by calling a meeting of stakeholders.

The motion, seeking annulment of rules aimed at regulating internet content notified by the government in April 2011, was moved by Communist Party of India-Marxist member P. Rajeeve.

The motion for annulling the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011, was negatived by a voice vote.

"I will request the MPs to write letters to me objecting to any specific words. I will then call a meeting of the stakeholders. We will implement consensus," Sibal said.

"I assure that the government does not stand for censorship and regulation of free speech," he added.

Justifying the rules, the minister said most internet companies were registered abroad and were not subjected to Indian laws. "These are very serious issues," he said.

The rules, enforced in April 2011, have been perceived largely as an indirect censorship of internet content.

They require that all intermediaries, which includes all those who provide internet, telecom, e-mail or blogging services, and cyber cafes, have to remove content that is "grossly harmful, harassing, blasphemous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, libellous, invasive of another`s privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically objectionable, disparaging, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, or otherwise unlawful in any manner whatever".

Participating in the debate, Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley said had internet been there, the Emergency of 1975 would have been a "fiasco".

"You can control print and electronic media, but not internet. The circulation would have been so wide, the fear psychosis would have been demolished," he said.

Objecting to the government`s set of rules for internet, Jaitley said terms such as defamatory, libellous and disparaging could be misused.

"Someone can criticise me or my party; it will be disparaging for me. But do I have the right to say: `Take it off the (inter)net`. The words ... the way they are framed have huge possibility of future misuse," he said.

Stating that the content on internet may be defamatory to one person or another, Jaitley also joked that by restricting all that is defamatory, "we will have a very boring internet".

Rajeeve pointed out that the rules were a violation of the right to freedom of speech.

"This rule is violation of the Constitution, Article 19(2), which gives freedom of speech... The rules violate principle of natural justice and are ultra vires of the parent act and the constitution," he said.

Janata Dal-United member N.K. Singh said rules are not in consonance with the provisions of the act.

Trinamool Congress member Derek O`Brien said that while content uploaded on internet cannot be pre-empted, steps must be taken to check the damage.

Samajwadi Party member Ram Gopal Yadav felt the rules framed were not in confirmity with the "mother act."

IANS