"Lack of understanding of IT laws posing challenge"

Rediff.com founder Ajit Balakrishnan speaks at a seminar on whether freedom of expression was under threat in the digital age

PTI | January 16, 2013



Lack of understanding of the new age laws governing internet by enforcement agencies in the country is posing a big challenge, a prominent Indian entrepreneur said on Tuesday.

Rediff.com founder Ajit Balakrishnan regretted that lack of understanding among the enforcement officials about such laws was posing a big challenge.

Citing the arrest of two girls in Mumbai for their Facebook post following Shiv Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray's death, he said they were, in fact, booked under section of the Indian Penal Code and not under the IT Act.

He said this at a seminar in the national capital on whether freedom of expression was under threat in the digital age.

According to Bakrishnan, legal system has to keep itself updated on handling internet-related issues properly. "The legal system does not know how to deal with these issues. We also get request from the US on internet issues. As nation states, we must find answer to this. Nobody understands new laws and that is facing challenges," he said.

He also stressed on protecting the interest of information intermediaries saying such concept "is not understood by officials in small towns".

Speaking at the seminar, Ramanjit Chima of Google felt that it was vital to find out whether the "restrictions are lawful or constitutional".

Director of 'free speech debate' in Oxford University Timothy Garton Ash said, "You have to distinguish between norms of principles which should be always applied everywhere in all sense...I would not criminalise hate speech as many European countries do. I would criminalise dangerous speech."

His suggestion came in wake of a collective sense of fear among netizens following the recent arrests of social networking site users for posting controversial content.

However, the speakers were unanimous of the view that the debate over internet freedom was global in nature and threat perception was all pervasive.

Prof Ash felt that the threat from internet was more on the issue of privacy than anything else. He said sites like Facebook today have "ticked us to share more of the private data".

He, however, thanked social networking sites as they have helped in shaping some of the mass uprisings like the one in Egypt and mobilised large-scale protest following the recent Delhi gang-rape incident.

The speakers were of the view that internet provides people the biggest opportunity for exercising freedom of expression through smooth dissemination and sharing of information.

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