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The Internet and the Indian state...

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  • shaji john
    =======[bytesforall_readers]============ Date: Thu, 10 Jul 2003 12:13:50 +0530 (IST) URL : http://www.rsf.fr/article.php3?id_article=7238 India Population :
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 10, 2003

      Date: Thu, 10 Jul 2003 12:13:50 +0530 (IST)

      URL : http://www.rsf.fr/article.php3?id_article=7238

      Population : 1,025,096,000
      Internet users : 16,580,000
      ISPs : yes
      The Internet's promising future in India is hampered by poor quality
      phone lines and pressures from the government. Two laws, one of them
      passed after the 11 September attacks, allow monitoring of the
      Internet and criminalises much activity by users.

      Parliament approved the Information Technology Act in May 2000 to
      crack down on cybercrime, which it defines as unauthorised access to
      electronic data. Hacking is punishable by up three years in prison and
      heavy fines. Cybercaf�s and the homes of Internet users can be
      searched at any time without a warrant if cybercrime is suspected and
      those who set up "anti-Indian" websites can be jailed for five years.

      The press revealed in March 2001 that police and government agencies
      were regularly harassing ISPs to provide personal information about
      their customers. The head of one of the biggest ISPs, Rediff.com, said
      he was being approached about once a month but refused to cooperate.
      The boss of Satyam Infoway, another major ISP, said he was under
      constant pressure of this kind.

      Registration of cybercaf� customers

      The strict legal regulation of the Internet allows prosecution of
      anyone violating what the government considers moral and political
      rules. In April 2001, police investigated pupils at one of New Delhi's
      biggest schools, accusing them of creating a "pornographic" website
      featuring their teachers and classmates. The probe began after the
      father of one pupil saw the name of his daughter on the site.

      The authorities regularly condemn pornographic sites as the plague of
      the Internet, but they are hugely popular with customers of the
      cybercaf�s that are opening everywhere in major cities. Cybercaf�
      owners make a goodwill gesture to the government by displaying warning
      notices to discourage their young customers.

      Police in Mumbai announced in May 2001 that anyone wanting to use a
      cybercaf� there would need to show an ID, driving licence or student
      card or for foreigners a passport or plane ticket. Customers deemed
      bona fide would be given a special card they could use on each visit.
      Cybercaf� owners opposed the measure, but the authorities argued that
      they received some 50 complaints a day about credit card fraud,
      hacking, supposed terrorist activities or pornography on the Internet.

      In June 2002, the Indian Intelligence Bureau reportedly asked the
      American FBI to help it develop software to tap into mobile phones and
      e-mail messages of members of criminal and terrorist groups. The news
      site rediff.com said talks were going on to establish this link
      between the two intelligence agencies.

      Confidentiality of journalists' sources under threat

      In November 2001, an anti-terrorist law (the Prevention of Terrorism
      Ordinance - POTO) was passed in the wake of the 11 September attacks, allowing the government to monitor all kinds of electronic
      communications, including personal e-mail, without legal restriction.
      Evidence gathered this way can be used in court against a suspect. In
      an attempt to justify its anti-terrorist and anti-cybercrime policy,
      the government said it would share this information with the US
      intelligence services.

      As important users of the Internet, journalists were especially
      targeted in the first draft of the new law, which proposed jail terms
      of five years for failure to give the authorities information about
      terrorists or terrorist organisations. After protests by the
      opposition and human rights and freedom of expression activists, this
      clause, obliging journalists to reveal their sources, was dropped and
      law adopted for a period of three years instead of five.

      Tehelka.com brings down the defence minister

      This attempt to control the Internet did not however prevent people
      from using it as a new vehicle of press freedom. In March 2001, a news
      site called Tehelka.com (which means "great excitement" in Hindi)
      lived up to its name. Investigative journalists, equipped with video
      cameras and pretending to be arms merchants, revealed that
      politicians, civil servants and top army officers had accepted bribes
      and the services of prostitutes in exchange for helping businessmen
      get government and especially military contracts. This corruption
      enquiry rocked the political class and the government itself and
      defence minister George Fernandes and the president of the ruling
      Bharatiya Janata Party, Bangaru Laxman, were forced to resign.

      The scandal highlighted the possibilities of the Internet as a new
      medium, but also drew a repressive reaction. The editor of Tehelka.com
      complained of efforts by the prime minister's office to discredit the
      site, accusing it being in the pay of Pakistani intelligence and
      organised crime. The journalists who broke the scandal were physically
      threatened and had to be given heavy police protection.

      About 20 intelligence agents from the Central Bureau of Investigation
      (CBI) searched the New Delhi offices of Tehelka.com on 26 June 2002,
      as well as the home of one of its journalists, Kumar Badal. He was
      accused of hiring two poachers to film and kill two of a protected
      species of leopards in the jungle in Saharanpur, in the northern state
      of Uttar Pradesh. But the CBI could not produce any incriminating
      evidence from among the material they had seized in their searches.

      However, the agents reportedly confiscated papers about the founding
      of the website, including e-mails from Shankar Sharma, owner of the
      company First Global and the first to bankroll the operation, who is
      now in prison.

      The searches were ordered a few hours before the website's chief
      editor, Tarun Tejpal, was due to give evidence to the Venkataswami
      Commission set up by the government to look into the corruption
      revealed by the site. The hearing of Tejpal, set for the same day as
      that of the former president of the Samata party, Jaya Jaitly - the
      alleged contact between the defence minister and the arms dealers -
      was postponed.

      The website's lawyer, Kavin Gulati, said the enquiry had reached a
      crucial moment of cross-examining witnesses, which suggested that the
      date of the search was deliberately chosen. A CBI spokesman said it
      was "sheer coincidence."

      Badal was arrested on 3 July and went on hunger strike for several
      days in protest against his imprisonment. He was being held under the
      Wildlife Protection Act and was humiliated in various ways. "I've been
      subjected to all this just because I work for Tehelka, which is
      determined to expose high-level corruption," he said.

      He was freed on 13 January 2003 on bail of 50,000 rupees (nearly 1,000
      euros) by a simple decision of the supreme court. But federal police
      vainly tried to block his release, saying investigations were not yet
      complete. Badal was put under house arrest in New Delhi and has to
      report to the CBI on the first Monday of each month. He was also
      banned from going to the Saharanpur district, where the complaint
      against him was filed.

      The harassment of Tehelka partly explained why the site announced in
      early 2003 it could not longer keep up a daily edition. Tejpal said
      that despite the reputation the site had gained and the praise it had
      received, Tehelka had been relentlessly victimised because of its
      revelations about the military. For two years, the staff had been
      harassed and arrested, and had shrunk from 120 to three, and the
      site's debts had mounted. He said he hoped the site would eventually
      return to help build free media in India.

      Journalist jailed for downloading material from the Internet

      Police in New Delhi charged journalist Iftikhar Gilani, New Delhi
      bureau chief of the Kashmir Times and correspondent for the Pakistani
      daily The Nation, with spying for Pakistan on 7 September 2002 by
      passing on details to Pakistani officials of the position of Indian
      troops and paramilitary forces in Kashmir. The charges were based on
      clauses of the Official Secrets Act and also articles of the Penal
      Code relating to criminal conspiracy and pornography. He had been
      arrested on 9 June.

      After first accusing him of financial irregularities, spying and
      involvement in pornography, police then said he had downloaded a
      document from the Internet about the fighting in Kashmir and had
      admitted it was to be handed to Pakistan. This material was available
      to any member of the public, but the judge in charge of the case said
      she had not had time to look at the website in question to check.
      Gilani said he had been beaten by other detainees at Tihar prison,
      near New Delhi, and refused access to the library. His several
      requests for release on bail were rejected.

      An army intelligence official told a judge on 23 December that no
      secret information had been found on Gilani's computer, obliging the
      government to drop prosecution of him and ask for his release. When he
      came out of prison on 13 January 2003, he called on journalists and
      politicians to see that the state secrets law was repealed.

      Links :

      [14]The independent news site Tehelka

      [15]The Department of Telecommunications

      [16]The independent magazine Frontline

      [17]The computer magazine Dataquest


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