Curbing freedom

If new forms of media have given people novel ways of expression, attempts to curb the freedom are also being planned in various ways. Governments by nature are not comfortable with the freedom enjoyed by citizens which they are afraid could be used against them. The excuses for curbing freedom are generally same — threat to public order, defamation, obscenity and many others  which are often subjective. The story of freedom of expression is a story of fight against these curbs. There is a fresh threat to that freedom in India coming from the government. The draft Information Technology (Due Diligence by Intermediaries) Rules may badly hit blogging which is an important tool of expression now.

The rules lay down that service providers should not allow abusive, blasphemous, harassing, inconvenient or various other kinds of information to be published and give them the power to remove the objectionable material themselves. They certainly have to do so on instruction by an authority. Interpretation is subjective and therefore there is bound to be no agreement on the nature of  the objectionable material. Bloggers will be at the mercy of the authorities and there will be no assurance that their views will be allowed to reach the world. They will also be responsible for others’ posts on their blog. One rule says that information that belongs to another person cannot be published. This might make it difficult for whistle-blowers or journalists to support information or a story with the publication of a document. Information Technology Act 2000 provides the regulatory framework for online publications. But the rules are being changed arbitrarily and against public interest.

Internet has become a lively medium which has expanded the scope of freedom of expression. It has allowed participation of people in debates and discussions on issues of public interest. Online publications have become an important part of social and political activity. The power can be seen from the role they played in the popular protests in Tunisia, Egypt and now in Libya. Perhaps it is because they have become a powerful new medium that the authorities want to curb them. But the restrictions sought to be imposed through these rules are against the freedom of expression guaranteed to all citizens. They should be opposed by all those who value freedom.

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