Capital cry against Web gag

Union telecom minister Kapil Sibal’s proposal to monitorwebsites to weed out “objectionable” content has notgone down well with the residents of the state capital.The Telegraph spoke to a large number of people from different walks of life but could not find anyone who agreed with Sibal’s opinion. Everyone slammed the Union minister and said the diktat would interfere with their fundamental rightshow you can fight cyber hate

Ever since rising Tamil playback singer Chinmayi Sripada tweeted a remark against the caste system, she has been flooded with hate messages on her Facebook account and blog, some suggesting she should be “sliced up” on the streets.What if you were to face threats, abuse or obscenity on the Internet, especially the social networking websites where these are on the rise, sparing none from celebrity and politician to the ordinary citizen? Samanwaya Rautray answers some of the questions you may have:

What sort of messages, mail or pictures can I take action against legally? Anything defamatory or libellous, or obscene, or threatening. Any of this can bring the offender a jail term, usually of three years, and a Rs 5-lakh fine. Harassment and intrusion of privacy, however, are more difficult to prove in the absence of a clear-cut definition, as is content deemed “harmful to minors”, says cyber law expert Karnika Seth.

What is the first thing I should do? Inform the service provider that runs the website. Under the law, it must withdraw such content within 36 hours of it being brought to its notice, says Seth.

If this fails, can I bring the service provider to book? Sure. You can have a civil court secure an assurance from it to remove any such mail or messages against you, or get a criminal court to punish it (the official responsible) if you can prove it knew about the messages but did not remove them. Or, you can get the government to fine it.

Can you explain the options one by one? The easiest way is to file a complaint with the information technology department, which will appoint a secretary as the adjudicating officer. This official can fine the service provider — by an amount up to Rs 5 crore — as well as the user who sent the messages. The department can also appoint a director-level official as group coordinator, who can have the offending user’s account blocked.

What if the government does none of this? You can then go the Cyber Law Appellate Tribunal. If unhappy with its ruling, you can go to the high court and then to the Supreme Court.

Can I directly go to the courts at the outset? Yes. For instance, you can file a civil suit to get the service provider to ensure such content is blocked. You can also get an injunction passed against the user, says Seth.

What if I want those responsible punished? Then you have to file a police complaint so that the user’s IP address can be traced and the abusive content removed from the websites. The matter now goes to the criminal court. Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, for instance, has filed an FIR against 22 people and eight websites over posts that he considers defamatory and malicious. You can, of course, take a milder first step by sending legal notices to the offenders, if you know who they are. That could deter them from repeating their act, says Seth. This is what Sripada, 27, who is consulting lawyers, is thinking of doing.

Are there specific laws that you invoke while filing an FIR like this? Yes, Sections 66 and 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, along with the relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code relating to obscenity, defamation, etc.

lAren’t there loopholes? As mentioned before, acts like harassment or intrusion into privacy may be difficult to prove. For the service provider too, there is an escape hatch. The IT Act was amended in 2008 to make the service provider accountable only if it knew about the content and was aware that it violated norms and still did not act. This was done after the companies argued that such a huge volume of content is generated every day that it is impossible to subject all of it to rigorous scrutiny. However, this loophole is plugged if, as mentioned earlier, you inform the service provider about the content.

Are the offenders ever punished? In 2009, a Kerala youth was tried under Supreme Court orders for posting online hate mail against the Shiv Sena. The top court said those posting content on the Net are accountable for it.’s Avnish Bajaj is still facing prosecution in the lower courts for allegedly uploading onto the site a privately circulated MMS involving a schoolboy and a schoolgirl in Delhi.

Can’t the government do something about all this? Telecom minister Kapil Sibal has told service providers to take down “abusive” comments and images, especially those that could ignite passions. This mainly relates to anything that hurts religious sentiments, or goes against national integrity or sovereignty, or is an incitement to violence, or promotes obscenity. However, it may well relate to personal abuse against highly respected individuals. In March this year, India became the first country to declare it would block web addresses ending in .xxx, reserved for porn sites. But a .xxx website could be accessed in Calcutta on December 6 night.

What about other governments? In the US, two bills now being debated on could be used to restrict access to the Internet if they become laws.The Protect IP Act proposes to make it mandatory for search engines, Internet service providers, credit card companies and ad networks to cut off access to foreign “rogue sites”. It proposes to allow not just the US government but private parties to go to court and target foreign domains. The Stop Online Piracy Act aims to tackle online piracy by giving the US justice department powers to go after websites, both in the country and abroad, that host disputed copyright material.

Apart from Sripada, have any celebrities received hate mail lately? Many of them. Shah Rukh Khan got some when the Kolkata Knight Riders replaced Sourav Ganguly. Celina Jaitley was abused for supporting the gay community’s fight for legal acceptance, and Nandana Sen for a scene in Rang Rasiya. Writer Arundhati Roy has received hate messages because of her views on a range of subjects, such as Maoists and Kashmir.