New IT Rules Have Internet Industry in a Bind

The Government’s new rules forgoverning user-generated content on websites are evoking the ire of internet community in India and chiefly from the largest search engine firm Google, which calls the rules as censorship of internet in the country. The new set of rules will impact all internet firms which accept user-generated content such as Google, Microsoft, Rediff, Indiatimes, Yahoo, Facebook and others. The new rules are set to regulate reader’s comments on articles, userposted videos, blogs, photos and comments on wall posts on online social networks. The new rules are notified by the Ministry of IT and Communications under Section 79 of the Indian IT Act. The IT Rules, 2011, state that the websites shall inform users not to publish any posts that are blasphemous, incite hatred, are ethnically objectionable, infringe patents, threaten India’s unity or public order. The websites will have to remove any content within 36 hours if a complainant terms it as blasphemous, inciting violence, harming him or national security in any way. Legal or police action can be taken against the website owner if the content is not removed within the specified time frame. The complainant can send his or her complaint via electronically-signed email or a registered post. Experts say that the new rules will increase the cost of compliance for internet firms that will now have to keep large teams to monitor and remove blasphemous content. World’s largest search engine Google, which owns YouTube and Orkut, has objected to the new rules. “If internet platforms are held liable for third-party content, it would lead to self-censorship and reduce the free flow of information. The regulatory framework should ideally help protect internet platforms and people’s abilities to access information,” said a Google India spokesperson. “Google believes that free and open internet is essential for the growth of digital economy and safeguarding freedom of expression,” the Google official added. All websites will also have to compulsorily appoint a grievance officer, and publish his or her contact details on the website. The officer will have to address the complaints within a month of receiving the complaint by email or post. The new rules will also impact sites like, SimplyMarry or, where there have been cases of mischievous users putting pictures of some other person for matrimony. The rules will also impact sites such as Orkut, Facebook, Rediff and Yahoo which carry user-generated posts. It will also impact sites like YouTube and EBay, where users can post videos or things to sell. Yahoo declined to comment on the issue, while an email sent to EBay elicited no response. Internet and Mobile Association of India termed the new rules as being detrimental to the growth of social media in India. “The rules seem to step on the statutory side, biased towards the complainant. Even before a case is filed in court, the website has to take down the content. It might harm freedom of speech on internet,” said an IAMAI spokesperson. Industry sources said that the government ignored their comments. But the government issued a press statement last week, saying that none of the associations and other stakeholders had objected, when rules were being formulated. “India remains fully committed to freedom of speech and expression. There is no intention of the government to acquire regulatory jurisdiction over content,” a statement from department of IT said.

Taken From "The Economic Times" 16 May 2011

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