Shuddhabrata Sengupta on Wed, 23 May 2001 07:17:57 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> the new authoritarianism

apologies for cross posting for those who are also on the Sarai-Reader-List.

This is in response to the posting that have already been made by Rana 
Dasgupta (forwarded by me) about the 'new authoritarianism' ,  (Thursday 
May 17) alerting us to the imminent dangers to the 'public domain' of 
cyberspace in India.
Rana's telling terminal question - "How can you tell when the cybershadow 
of an untouchable has fallen across you?" is very pertinent. Following from 
Rana's argument, I think that the perceived threat of 'contamination', and 
the drawing up of draconian regimes to wipe out such contamination in 
cybercafes and in cyberspace is not unlike the great fear of the lower 
castes having access to the 'code' of Sanskrit that beset the pundits of 
previous times. They would defile the code with the pollution that comes 
with being lower caste bodies speaking the code. Similarly, the Indian 
corner of 'cspace' needs to be protected from unruly and unpredictable 
usage practices and patterns in public spaces. There is every likelihood 
that the clinical cyber-ram-rajya-utopia of acres of medical transcription, 
html sweatshops and software export processing zones so beloved of our 
rulers may be contaminated by 'bad boys and girls looking at bad websites 
on the internet in streetcorner cybercafes'.
In a little known story in the Ramayana, Ram in deference to the consensus 
of the brahmins in his court(oce he was back in Ayodhya and had established 
Rram Rajya) condemned the untouchable Shambuk to death , because he had 
dared to deploy Sanskrit. The impure person speaking the code of the 
masters has always been seen in the glorious tradition of high culture,as 
nothing less than a capital crime.
Today, Information Technology is the new code of the masters. The Sanskrit 
of our times. And just as the language of the gods was always in danger of 
being sullied and polluted by the hordes, so too must the whole arena of 
Information technology be sanitized. We might consider the global regimes 
of surveillance and sanitization that now surround us (viz the pioneering 
internet related legislations in Australia, Italy, Singapore and UK) as 
instances of a sweeping international pandemic of a peculiarly 'Sanskritic' 
paranoia with the purity of code. Purify the code at the places where it 
has the greatest traffic (in India - the Cybercafes) and make sure that 
only those who wear the sacred thread of a licence can actually use the 
code. (the licencing regualtions, of which, more shortly)
The threat to the free space of the public domain of cyberspace comes at 
two ends and this posting is an attempt to further discuss the two ends of 
the threat.Both ends seem to reflect a state apparatus gone 
insane.Unfortunately we all have to deal with this insanity, it is already 
begining to deal with us on the streets.In a quickly forgotten incident 
that distracted our attention a few months ago, a young man in Okhla was 
gunned down in cold blood as he slept by crack commandoes of the Delhi 
Police (with you, for you, always) . They had come to the conclusion that 
HE was the terrorist who had let off a few rounds in the Red Fort. And how 
did they come to this conclusion - he frequented a cybercafe far too 
The Control over Content : A Law, A Guideline and A Draft Bill (Two and a 
Half ways to choke freedome in cyberspace)
Here what we have to alert ourselves to is the immense weight of 
legislation that is shortly to be brought to bear on the space of creation 
and dissemination of media content. We are talking about An existing and a 
would be law and a set of guidelines. First the Law
The Information Technology Act of 2000 (which is now law, and people are 
being arrested under its provisions) in its now notorious clauses 66 and 67 
criminalized 'hacking' and 'publishing of information which is obscene in 
electronic form'.Clause 80 of the same Act empowers police or state 
officers or to enter and search a Public Space (read Cybercafes) in pursuit 
of cyber criminals or would be cyber criminals. The language of the state 
in this regard is chilling , and I quote from the 13th Chapter 
(Miscellaneous) of the IT Act 2000
"Section 80. Power of police officer and other officers to enter, search, etc.
(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 
1973, any police officer, not below the rank of a Deputy Superintendent of 
Police, or any other officer of the Central Government or a State 
Government authorised by the Central Government in this behalf may enter 
any public place and search and arrest without warrant any person found 
therein who is reasonably suspected or having committed or of committing or 
of being about to commit any offence under this Act"
Explanation.—For the purposes of this sub-section, the expression "public 
place" includes any public conveyance, any hotel, any shop or any other 
place intended for use by, or accessible to the public."
To read the IT Act 2000 online (or to download it) go to -
Now the Guideline
After this we have already witnessed the promulgation of the Guidelines and 
General Information for the Setting Up of Submarine Cable Landings for 
International Gateways for the Internet (issued by the Ministry of 
Communications, Government of India) which makes provision for the 
interception of all and any messages and routine surveillance of data and 
regulations on encryption and limitations to privacy - all in the name of 
the national interest, public order, morality and the security of the state.
To view the 'Guidelines' - go to -
Jeebesh Bagchi, in 'A Chronology of the Media and the State in India'
( the Sarai Reader 01 - pgs. 127 - 132 or 
has drawn a very succint picture of the scenario till here. Examining the 
ways in which the various media have been dealt with state in India from 
the end of the nineteenth century onwards. With the drawing up of the draft 
of the Communications and Convergence Bill we enter a qualitiatively new 
scenario.And since this posting has been occasioned
Up till now, the control (in so far as content creation is concerned) has 
been retrospective. The IT Act enables prosecution, but only AFTER the 
offending website has been published and found by the cyber-informers who 
work for the Indian state (zealous and stupid journalists who act as 
guardians of public morality and state security, zealous and stupid 
cyberwarriors - the growing army of 'counter-hackers', dying to be on the 
payroll of the vigilant state, and some zealous and stupid so called 
feminist organisations that are more keen on censorship than they are in 
any form of human liberation).
However, if the new Communications and Convergence Bill becomes law, then 
the control will be excercised PRIOR to the act of actually uploading 
anything on to the internet. The new italian cyberlaws require any person 
uploading content on to the web to register with the state as a journalist. 
This is similar to the system of 'accreditation' of journalists, which is 
one way of keeping controls in place over the print medium. But the C & C 
Bill goes one step further. It asks that anyone transmitting any media rich 
content over any device (read audio or video streaming) now must obtain a 
license from the soon to be formed 'Communication Commission of India'. Now 
suppose you are running a website and you want to upload streaming audio 
content on to the site, and you havent bothered to pay the license fee to 
the Communications Commission of India, which means you havent given any 
undertaking about the nature of your content. Suppose you have collected 
MP3 files from 'free music' sites or have actually gone to the trouble to 
record someone making music in their basement or in the open air and are 
uploading such files. Now suppose that some of these songs content material 
that is objectionable. For instance it could be a Baul Folk song containing 
what woud be considered by some 'obscene' and 'scurrilous' lyrics. Then you 
are liable to be prosecuted on three counts.
First, for streaming audio ontent without having the license to do so.
Second, for disregarding copyright conventions in your streaming audio content
Third, for communicating 'obscene' content.
In each of these cases you are liable to imprisonment ofr three to five 
years, and fines can be levied to the tune of fifty, ten, five or three 
crores, depending upon the seriousness of your transgression. This means 
that anyone who is happily streaming audio or video, or wants to do so in 
the near future, had better be prepared for a spell as a guest of the 
Government of India, and have just received a bequest for fifty crores with 
which they can pay the fine.
If you think I am joking, take a look at the draft bill (and its wonderful 
language) at
I am posting choice and chilling excerpts, in an accompanying post, that 
might save you the bother of ploughing through many pages of legales. But I 
am sure that are many other lethal provisions whose implications I have not 
been able to fathom lurking throughout the draft.
And further, note also that it empowers the state to intercept any message 
that may be transmitted on any network anywhere, and that in times of war 
of national emergency the state may take over any communication network or 
content application provider anywhere.
The draft bill has now been cleared by the GoM (Group of Ministers) and 
should hit parliament in the monsoon session.Where it will no doubt receive 
unanimous support from right,left and centre. The only way to make a few 
semi-comatose MPs to dither before they append their signatures is to make 
a sufficient amount of noise in what is nowadays called Civil Society. THe 
IT Act is History. No one made any noise at that time. We know what that 
has meant. Each piece of draconian legislation learns its draconian way 
from its predecessor. And if you thought that the C&C Bill was the end of 
the road, think again.Lurking in the corridors of the Ministry of 
Information Technology is the Semiconductor Design Bill. Which takes the 
regime straight into the hardware, into the question of whether or not the 
chips that you are using have the right kind of circuit design. In the near 
future, surveillance of what you do will be built into the machines that 
you use. All that is required is for the state to mandate that you can only 
use a machine which has a certain kind of chip built in, or added to it. 
This could mean that the computer that you use will be itself open to 
monitoring, by law. This is analogous to the 'registration' and 'licensing' 
of typewriters, photocopiers and cyclostyling machines that was once 
considered necessary in certain peoples democracies of eastern europe.What 
a way to go.
So, we will all soon have
identity cards to enter a cybercafe (which will allow remote digital 
monitoring of our individual time online)
licenses to upload web content and stiff punishment if you are an 
unlicensed content provider
institutionalized frameworks for surveillance and censorship
mechanisms to block offending sites at the gateways and submarine cable 
landing stations
and mandatory chips in our machines
What else do we need?
Meanwhile, a public spirited groups of citizens have filed a Public 
Interest Litigation in the Delhi Courts asking for all cybercafes to have 
mandatory patrolling and to be fitted by law with filters to ensure that 
people cannot access unsavoury sites.The Hindustan Times of May 1, 2001 
carried a piece detailing the PIL. I quote from the HT article 'Smut 
cookies don’t crumble ' by
Ravi Visvesvaraya Prasad.(for the full text of this article go to
"...In March, public interest litigation was filed in Delhi High Court 
against the cabinet secretary, the police commissioner of
Delhi, the Delhi government, and the union ministries of Communications, 
Science and Technology, Home Affairs, Information and Broadcasting, Human 
Resources Development, and Social Welfare, Justice and Empowerment. The 
petitioners wanted the government to formulate procedures to prevent 
Indians, especially minors, from accessing pornographic websites as well as 
those advocating drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. They wanted the government to 
direct all Indian internet service providers (ISPs) to install filtering 
software at their gateways to prevent access to such websites. They also 
wanted all cybercafés and educational institutions to compulsorily install 
filtering software on their computers to "prevent exposure to inappropriate 
material that is sexual, hateful, or violent in nature, or encourages 
activities that are dangerous or illegal". They sought
compulsory licensing of cybercafés by the government, and demanded: "At 
cybercafés, children below 18 years of age should be allowed to surf the 
internet only when they produce a permission letter from their parents, 
attested by a gazetted officer". The petitioners also wanted all cybercafés 
to maintain complete records of all the websites, chat rooms and bulletin 
boards visited by each one of their customers. Admitting the PIL, a 
division bench consisting of Chief Justice Arijit Passayat and Justice D. 
K. Jain directed the cabinet secretary to "hold a meeting of various 
ministries and file an affidavit indicating the definite stand taken by the 
Surely, this meeting has been held. Measures will be taken.
Meanwhile, No public interest litigations. or campaings, to protect the 
privacy, freedom of expression. or right to information of the surfing 
citizen are anywhere in sight.Given the sanctimonious zeal of our 
judiciary, this censorious argument is likely to be the winning argument, 
and the ad-hoc police measures being followed in Bombay will soon become 
part of the acceptable, the routine, the everyday. Like the censor 
ceritificate before a film screening in the cinema, like the dishwater in 
our tv sets, like the boredom in the airwaves.
Meanwhile, we will all be outcastes and untouchables in cyberspace.And the 
state will be looking out for our cybershadows.

Shuddhabrata Sengupta
SARAI: The New Media Initiative
Centre for the Study of Developing Societies
29, Rajpur Road, Delhi 110 052, India

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