Rights come with duties: Sibal

Compliance to transparency and accountability at the users end is the key to resolving issues related with internet freedom

pratap

Pratap Vikram Singh | October 5, 2012



Reiterating his stand on the freedom of expression on internet, union minister for communications and information technology Kapil Sibal on Thursday said one must keep a balance between the right to free expression and one’s duties. A person entitled to freedom of expression should also be held accountable if the communication is misleading, he said. 

"India’s stand on the issue is that freedom of expression is a must for every citizen which needs to be balanced with accountability. With rights come duties,” Sibal said, while speaking at India Internet Governance Conference (IIGC - 2012) organised by FICCI in association with the ministry of information technology and communications and the Internet Society.

Recalling a decision of the supreme court of the United States, he said same laws cannot be followed in all countries. "We can resolve this through developing a mechanism through consensus among all the stakeholders," Sibal said while speaking on ‘Internet for Social and Economic Development: Building the Future Together’- the theme of the conference.

The conference was also attended by CPI(M) leader and member of parliament Sitaram Yechuri. "We need to ensure that internet delivers global public good and it doesn’t become a tool in the hands of the powerful," he said. 

Unlike other advanced countries, Yechury said, where the legislators are internet savvy, those in India have just started using computers and internet. MPs have recently been provided with computer tablets and WiFi is being installed on parliament premises, which otherwise has a lot of jammers, restraining use of cell phones, he added.

Delivering his address during the conference, R Chandrashekhar, secretary, department of telecommunications, said, “There are two types of challenges when it comes to internet governance – hard and soft. The hard issues comprise infrastructure, connectivity and devices. The soft issues are the ones which are harder to deal with such as e-governance, making India e-literate and how to equip people to use internet fully,” he said.  

Elaborating on projects undertaken by the government to make country e-literate and increase the accessibility of internet, J Satyanarayana, secretary, department of electronics and information technology, said that a few such initiatives include National knowledge network, national optical fibre network, programmes on e-health, e-education, e-panchayats, citizen engagement and open data - a policy to make data, except classified and data on the negative list, accessible to the public.

“Internet governance has been addressed inadequately because of the complexity involved. One of the focus areas of internet governance is cyber security as India is among the topmost IT destinations in the world. Hence it becomes all the more important to secure our cyber space and protect data,” Vijay Latha Reddy, deputy national security advisor, government of India, said. 

She also said that the government was working with private players and other stakeholders to devise a road map for cyber security through the public private partnership model. Capacity building and cyber security professionals are needed in this regard, she stated.

Nitin Desai, former special advisor to United Nations secretary general on internet governance, dubbed the focus of governments over controlling internet as "futile and pointless". It should rather be on traceability and accountability, through which the agencies can trace, catch and punish the offenders."

Raising the issue of accessibility of internet for the disabled, Krishnakant Mane, accessibility expert, IIT Bombay, said that accessibility should be formed into a law, since compliance (in reference to accessibility for the disbaled) is poor in India. He cited an example of Israel where compliance has been made mandatory by the government. On complaint, the agencies take down the sites violating the compliance rules.

The two-day conference is a first-of-its-kind, multi-stakeholder conference on internet governance in the Indian context. The conference will witness deliberations on network neutrality, global internet governance models, management of transition to IPv6, broadband for all; challenges the internet poses to traditional media and the challenges online hate speech poses for all.  

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