Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Blogger as an Intermediary

Bloggers beware. This writer (ah, hm, blogger) has been blogging away from August 2003 not knowing that the government of India considers blogging a serious activity, not a harmless one, one where you write a few sentences about life's vicissitudes, about daily heartbreaks and things that don't get done. His writing has mostly been experimental, a muscle-flexing of his writing, a writers'-block-kickassing attempt at being facetious. Call it what you will.

Happenstance that the government under the Information Technology Act has terms blogger as an "intermediary" to the publishing of information. It doesn't see it as a harmless activity anymore. If it is found to carry out unlawful activities against the state it can take action and give punishment. This post is all for a wider and all-encompassing debate on this topic.

An intermediary is a vast and nebulous concept according to the act. It includes telecom service providers, network service providers and even cyber cafes. Drawing parallel to publishing why doesn't the law see a journalist, printer, publisher and distributor all as intermediaries? Why is such draconian definitions given only to information on the web, i.e., bloggers. Does publishing unlawful information subject the journalist to 7 years in prison? No? Because publishing has the Press Council of India that regulates itself. Do bloggers have any such body? Not that I know of. See who is an intermediary according to the act:

"with respect to any electronic record means any person who on behalf of another person receives, stores or transmits that record or provides any service with respect to that record, including telecom service providers, network service providers, internet service providers, webhosting service providers, search engines, online payment sites, online-auction sites, online-market places and cyber cafes".

See for example this excerpt from the act which deals with seizing of data from your computer (if you are a blogger, that is). What does the government intend to do by seizing such data?

(a) provide access to or secure access to the computer resource generating transmitting, receiving or storing such information; or
(b) intercept, monitor, or decrypt the information, as the case may be; or
(c) provide information stored in computer resource.

What's draconian about this law is that it intends to mete out punishment of up to 7 years in prison for unlawful activities. I think most bloggers having been journalists and sub-editors in their previous avatars are fully knowledgeable about what constitutes an unlawful activity and would be thinking twice before stepping on thin ice. But what about a neophyte blogger who is doing it for fun and writing a diary, well, in a manner of speaking. If he/she says something untoward (like we always do in private conversations) can the state interpret is as anti-national and imprison him/her? How private is a blog?

A lot of issues come to the fore when dealing with such issues. True blogging is an independent medium and can be misused. But will anyone take that risk? This defeats the very purpose of making blogging into a serious medium for dissemination of views and analysis. 

The Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) has commissioned an advocate Ananth Padmanabhan to go into the details and here are some of his views.Considering that bloggers are a vocal and vociferous lot they need to come together to shed some light on the implications of this act for mere peasants such as me. Hat tips Pranesh Prakash's blog.


Stranger in a Strange Land said...

I see India is still under the influence of foreign control and influence. This attempt to silence the voices of freedom is growing and unfortunate.

Such an unholy effort from a reportedly holy Land.

Take care,
Mike Hopkins

Susan Deborah said...

Well, this leaves me a bit baffled. I thought I was treading on safe grounds. I don't think this is permissible. This domain is a medium where one can express his/her views, notions and other things freely. If everything comes under scrutiny like this, I wonder what it means to have freedom of expression. Well, this also sends out signals that bloggers are er, important. I like that fact. Makes me feel 'wow!' This also means one should write responsibly and not rant his/her anger, personal wraths and other things in this platform. Sometimes such rants can prove fatal as you have mentioned.

Joy always,