Sunday, 13 March 2011

Beware bloggers; Ramamritham is after you

Readers of this blog are familiar with the mythical Ramamritham - the ubiquitous bureaucrat who frames awful rules and procedures. You can refresh your familiarity with this character here . Frequently this pest merely frames irritating rules that makes lives miserable, but rarely does he do direct harm. But this time he has outdone himself with his mischief and and is now proving to be a real menace. I am referring to the amendments he has proposed to the Indian IT Act, blandly named as the Draft Rule under Section 79 (nobody accused Ramamritham of possessing imagination)

Strip away the legalese and the implications are this
  • the government can shut down any website, including blogs, for the vaguest of reasons
  • Bloggers are responsible to censor reader comments ; if somebody comments inappropriately, its the blogger's problem
  • Intermediaries have to do due diligence on all user material. So presumably the ISP should shut you off if you show your finger to Ramamritham
  • Only an idiot will open a cyber cafe - the risks are simply not worth it.
Government censorship of the Internet is a worldwide problem. Regimes are struggling with how to tame the beast which they seldom understand. The ubiquity and speed of the net is something that is deeply unsettling. Hence this problem of censorship, which is creeping all over the world.

India's justification with censorship of the net started with terrorism. Because terrorists use the internet, it has to be policed, went the logic. It then extended to pornography. Clothed under such "laudable" aims, Ramamritham, in his trademark style has completely gone overboard. Consider the rules he is framing for cybercafes for example.
  • A cyber cafe has to obtain a special license (neta babu raj is back)
  • He must keep a hard and soft copy of log of all users in a prescribed format and must submit monthly returns to the licensing agency of all the websites that each user went to !!!
  • Partitions in the cafe cannot exceed 4.5 feet in height (presumably so that Ramamritham can peer and see if the user is looking at dirty pictures)
  • All screens of computers shall face outwards; so that they can be easily seen by others
  • Police inspectors are authorised to come and inspect whether these rules are being followed (we all know what that means in India)

I haven't made all these up - these are in the Draft Rules. If you don't believe me you can read the bland document here. No wonder you rarely see any reasonable standard internet cafe in India.

The real danger to bloggers is this - if you offend the powers that be, they now have the legal right to hound you. Its no good to say that these powers are meant to be used only to block terrorism or incitement to hatred. The fact that these powers exist means that they will be misused. The history of Ramamritham indicates that he cannot resist using a power he has.

The right way in a democracy to stop this is to lobby your elected representative so that the bill is defeated in the parliament. Fat chance. Imagine a reasoned debate between Mulayam Singh Yadav and Azhagiri on the need to protect individual liberty. So we can only, but moan, in forums such as these.

I though I had returned back from China. Evidently, I haven't. Perhaps the only really "safe" place to go is to that blessed land where the First Amendment is guarded with unbelievable diligence and vigour. Meanwhile, dear readers, do me a favour. Please preface every comment of yours with " The Government of India is next only to God; Hail Ramamritham ; More power to him ". You'll help keep me out of jail. Thank you !

PS - For a more reasoned and less frivolous reporting of the issue go here and here
PPS - Disclaimer - Ramamritham is entirely mythical and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely accidental !


Viji said...

Wondering what would have been the reaction to the first news paper by Ramamirtham's great great grandfather. If "R"s (too long a name to write and hence forth I coin "R"s)are the guardians who protect us from all evil, what have they done with the so called frank journalists who get away with cheap stories and down right horror and vulgarity in the name of 'frank reporting'. Where is Mr R's contribution in the area of TV channels - which dish out absolute rubbish day after day, hour after hour, which is eagerly lapped up by millions!
Enru thaniyum indha sudhandira Dhaagam????

Sandhya Sriram said...

now, look at the positive side.

one can create an accredated course - cyber cafe documentation process. like those thick and fat vs. singhania books and sell it at Rs.10000/- per copy

and then we can have consultants who will read those books and fight your case when you get caught

and then you can have a, concurrent audit process to supervise effective utilization

and then you create a new genre of software engineers who churn out continous codes to block sites on cyber cafe

and i can go on like this

Ramesh... how can you outright reject such an important piece of legislation... You are killing the career ambitions of many of our youngsters today. very unfair of you!!

Hail Ramarathinam.

gils said...

intha newslaam ungaluku engenthu kedaikuthu thala?

Ramesh said...

@ Viji - I am sure the worthy ancestor objected to the newspaper when it first came to. I hold no candle to the howling rubbish that most media broadcast, but as the saying goes, I shall defend their right to do so.

@ Sandhya - Brilliant defence of the man with the tongue firmly in cheek. That's why you are a champion blogger

@ gils - What do do thala; idle reading accumulates the most useless of tidbits

Vishal said...

" The Government of India is next only to God; Hail Ramamritham ; More power to him ".

More powers and more misuse, more rules and more confusions. Indeed, cyber cafe is hard to locate now a days and these are the reasons. This detailed level of censorship for terrorism and pornography? Only Ramamritham can think of those. But, I must conclude that Ramamrithams are next to God and they will make the internet loveliest of place. Do they sense some monetary benefits here too?

zeno said...

Did my comment got deleted?
or ramamirtham already in action?படுபாவி பசங்க உங்களையும் PPS disclaimer எல்லாம் போட வச்சுட்டாங்க...
our ppl too behave in such manner to justify the actions of Ramamirtham. Tamil blogdom is full of action worthy of tons of cases of libel and defamation. Some deserve to be closed.
Coming to cybercafes, Police recently found 'softwear' in Patna in a cybercafe.
BTW, how come two people who talk to each other in two different languages be considered as debate?

Ramesh said...

@Vishal - Makes you want to tear your hair in frustration, doesn't it ??

@Zeno - Ramamritham decided to categorise your comments as spam !! How dare he do this to the eminent philosopher ??

I know many blogs feature outright trash. But then its upto the reader to decide what he wants to read. There is simply no justification for censorship. Anybody who wants to see what havoc it can do to the mind, just has to go to China.

Pranavam Ravikumar a.k.a. Kochuravi said...

I have n't got this info.. Thanks for the post.

J said...

There are moments though in the land of the First Amendment that you wish that some of the more extreme rabid voices could be censored... but I guess that's the price to be paid.

Anonymous said...

Good old Ramamritham!! You make it sound so real! Infact they are..not just the cyber our own offices...
I was tickled when I submitted some petrol claims for IT exemption purposes and was told that I need to fill a sheet saying "from" where "to" where that I travelled, with no. of KMs for about Rs 15K worth of Petrol!!and prove that it was used for Official purposes.
So, I said from home to Office, everyday for 200 days ( filled 200 lines in Excel) and it was accepted.:-)
Btw, the cartoon is super!

Anonymous said...

Tried commenting on your Ramaritham blog -gave me some message in a language i didnt understand (didnt have the patience to google translate)... Anyway, reading this one, i got it - you have to moderate the comments - Have fun -'Ramaritham' ing- = approving all these mundane responses!!!!

Ramesh said...

@J - And it is a worthwhile price to be paid. Even when the nutters drive you up the wall with their rants, its a lot lot better than to have an environment like in China

@Hema - Oh yes they exist everywhere including in our office.

@Anon - LOL. It shall be the ultimate curse if I become a Ramamritham !!

RamMmm said...

Worry not, unless the bill goes hidden somewhere inside a farm subsidy bill and passed surreptiously. Anyway, it can still be revoked. :-) :-)

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