Sibal fools none with his promise of free expression

May 18, 2012, 08:22 IST | MiD DAY Correspondent

Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal had a couple of interesting things to say for the benefit of cameras in the Rajya Sabha earlier this week. He spoke of how the government intended to ‘evolve a consensus’ on rules for control of Internet content after speaking to various stakeholders including Members of Parliament and industry representatives.

This statement came in the wake of a motion, filed by a member of the opposition, seeking an annulment of rules aimed at regulating Internet content, notified by the government in April 2011. Sibal referred to the issue as sensitive — as most things debated in Parliament and on television screens increasingly appear to be these days — and mentioned the need for ‘a balanced approach.’

Interestingly, India has made a proposal to control the Internet through a United Nations Committee at the 66th session of the United Nations. It is expected to come up for discussion today in Geneva during a meeting of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS).

According to the IT Rules of 2011, websites cannot host information that is grossly harmful, harassing, blasphemous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, libellous, invasive of privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically objectionable, disparaging, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, or otherwise unlawful in any manner whatever, harms minors or infringes any patent, trademark, copyright or other proprietary right.

The changes proposed by Sibal, when enforced, simply aim to absolve the government of any interference. They still make it possible for anyone to file a complaint stating that some content posted on a public platform has been deemed offensive. A formal complaint can then compel the police to insist that the content in question be taken down.

Sibal says the government has no intention of impinging on our right to freedom of expression. What would you call this move?

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