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Internet insecurity grips India due to lax policing in cyber land

Shivani Shinde  |  Mumbai 

Social media firms like Facebook and Google have been on the receiving end, be it from the IT minister Kapil Sibal or Delhi High Court.

The opinion is hugely divided on the need for monitoring and censorship in social media. But, feel legal experts, it is escaping with impunity, as there are no laws on social media in this country.

The existing laws lack in governing the internet. Pawan Duggal, Supreme Court lawyer and a cyber law expert, points out that the Indian IT Act 2000 and its regulations cover the post-publication phase. "The law is silent on any requirement on the part of social media firms to monitor content in any way," he says.

The IT Act 2000 and its subsequent regulations say the government has the power to monitor, intercept and even block online conversations and websites.

Social media services providers, under the Indian IT law, are considered intermediaries. Under Section 79 of the IT Intermediary (Rules and Guidelines), 2011, intermediaries such as telcos, internet services providers, network services providers, search engines, cyber cafes, web-hosting companies, online auction portals and online payment sites are mandated to comply with the IT Act and its regulations, exercise "due diligence" and advise users not to share or distribute information that violates the law or a person's privacy and rights.

In case a services provider is notified of offensive content, the intermediaries are expected to act on a complaint within 36 hours of receiving it, and remove such content when warranted.

In case the intermediary doesn't find the content objectionable, the matter will have to be contested in a court.

"Some cases filed show the problem had arisen because these firms had not responded within 36 hours to remove content. Many would argue this is too short a time, but in the cyber world, even a few minutes are enough to tarnish an image," says Duggal.

Other than the delay on the complaint, many also say the grievance mechanism does not provide an apt solution.

"If you complain with Facebook about an abuse, they will simply shut your account. The user is, thus, at the receiving end, as they need to recreate their entire social profile. More important, the time taken to redress is more than 36 hours," says Vijay Mukhi, a cyber security expert.

Legal experts opine that another way could be the China way. The Chinese government tells players like Google what all they can show, and has a tight grip on what can be accessed.

But, the bigger question is the possibility of real-time monitoring of content, especially in the case of social media platforms.

These have millions of users, with usage running into millions of posts per day, thus making surveillance a mammoth task. Also, monitoring would require manual efforts.

"Different companies have different ways of perceiving freedom of expression. There cannot be a unified view of expression. Even in the US, you have limitations on what can be said in public forums. Also, it is not possible for any social media platform or an internet company to pre-screen comments. This will severely restrict interactions," said an official of a local internet firm offering blog services.

"The problem is not You can monitor what is being uploaded, but the problem is what content to remove. No computer will ever tell you that an update or a tweet is offensive. You can have filters for a certain word or name, but that wouldn't be foolproof either," says Mukhi.

"Any internet player, Indian or foreign, needs to comply with the law of the land. Most foreign players have not shown urgency in restricting offensive content. You cannot hurt national or religious sentiment," says Ashish Kashyap, founder and CEO, Ibibo, a social gaming platform.

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First Published: Wed, February 08 2012. 00:27 IST