Ravi Sundaram on Wed, 16 May 2001 16:10:17 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> the new authoritarianism in India

This came out in today's Indian Express. The local state functionaries have
long been troubled by the expansion of net culture on the street (where
most Indians access mail and the internet). This is a typical response, and
a frightening one..

Ravi Sundaram

Mumbai cops place obstacle on information superhighway, it's an ID Net
users will need ID cards to access cyber cafes, foreigners, passports or
flight tickets

Express News Service

Mumbai, May 15: The next time you walk into a cyber cafe in Mumbai, you
won't be able to plug into a terminal unless you produce an identification
card, swipe it and punch in a password. And if you're a foreigner, you will
have to show your passport or flight ticket.

This new vigilance-some are already calling it intrusion of
privacy-represents the Mumbai police's bid to tap cyber crime and
pornography. According to Deputy Commissioner of Police Manoj Lohiya, who
heads the city police's Economic Offences Wing, identification required for
the card could be a passport, driver's licence, ration card and for
students, a college identity card.

The card, to be issued for a fixed period, will be available at select
cyber cafes and is valid all over Mumbai. The police have also appointed an
IT advisory committee, comprising Internet professionals and VSNL
officials, which will decide whether users applying for the I-D cards will
be assigned a personal code or digital signature.

The decision was taken at a meeting between Police Commissioner M.N. Singh
and Information Technology (IT) experts last Friday. The police are yet to
fix the date for implementing the scheme. However, they have authorised the
Yehi Hai Mumbai Cyber Cafe's Association, which represents 200 of the
city's 2,000-odd cyber cafes, to empower some cafes to issue the I-D card.

Cafe owners and users are crying foul, saying the entire community is being
targeted to nab a handful of criminals. Besides, several net users are
students who can't afford a computer back home. Winston Lee, who owns a
cyber cafe in suburban Bandra, says, ''The new system isn't practical. It
will burden both users as well as cyber cafes.''

Another headache for cafe owners is the register they must maintain of
customers, complete with their I-card number and details. Says Ram
Devadiga, manager of Cyber Funcity, ''This will be an extra burden on us
and users. We don't have the right to invade the privacy of our customers,
they can do what they want to in the time they pay us for.''

But, fed up to the teeth with complaints of hacking, credit card misuse,
death threats, pornography, morphing and terrorism, the police and internet
administrators are taking a tough line. Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL)
Director Amitabh Kumar said, ''We receive 40 to 50 complaints every day.
But by then, it is too late. We can only locate the Internet Protocal (IP)
address, which is usually a cyber cafe, and not the user.''

Anyone can enter a cyber cafe without any registration and send threats of
murder and extortion or porn mail without being caught, adds Kumar. ''The
owner does not know any details of the customers either, so there is no
point in interrogating him.'' VSNL acknowledges it's easier to trace
someone who hacks or misuses from home or office than from a cybercafe.

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