How to Counter Rogue Sites

Recently there has been reports of a spate of Rogue Web sites carrying "Anti Indian" messages, the latest being the one from the Tamil Nationalist group interlinked with the Islamic fundamentalists.

It is certainly alarming for the E-Governance of the Country that such sites should come up to disturb the peaceful fabric of the country or a part of it. However it would be interesting to see how the Government reacts to this challenge. This is not the first time that such a web site has come up in India or elsewhere and neither it will be the last time. The Government will have to therefore take a policy decision on how to handle such sites.

The Information Technology Act 2000 (ITA-2000) has empowered the Controller some powers in this regard.

Section 69 of the Act, states as follows:

69 (1): If the controller is satisfied that it is necessary and expedient so to do in the interest of the soverignity or integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with  foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence, for reasons to be recorded in writing, by order, direct any agency of the Government to intercept any information transmitted through the computer resource.

(2) The subscriber or any person in charge of the Computer resource shall, when called upon by any agency which has been directed under subsection (1), extend all facilities and technical assistance to decrypt the information.

(3) The subscriber or any person who fails to assist the agency referred to in the sub section (2) shall be punished with imprisonment for a term  which may extend to seven years.

Read with section 75 which extends the provisions of the ITA-2000 to persons outside India, the Controller will be in a position to take appropriate action under the Act to punish the owners of the site, the ISP that hosts the site and the content providers. He can conduct an enquiry with or without the assistance of an Adjudicating officer, pronounce his verdict (Using the quasi judicial powers vested in him through the section 69) and request the enforcement authorities to take action invoking International Public law. Of course such action should be completed within a few days to be of any effect in the Cyber World.

One other easy option for the Indian Government is to block the site from being viewed from within India as they have done in the case of some of the Pakistani newspaper sites.

However, blocking of a site may not be the correct solution since surfers may still access such sites through anonymizer services. Then the Government may have to block these services as well. More over, "Blocking " is a negative way of regulation and only helps in distancing the Government from understanding the ground realities. It is a part of history now that Mrs Indira Gandhi sufferred because of the Press Censorship during Emergency which gave her a wrong impression about the real situation in the Country. The Censorship by blocking those who access Internet with Indian ISP s will create a situation where the sites will continue to build up international viewpoint against the country with no counter point being served.

I therefore suggest for consideration the following model for handling "Objectionable Sites".

1. Sites which are said to contain "Politically Objectionable material" are reviewed by a virtual committee of experts and voted for or against being declared "Objectionable for Viewing by the Indian Government".

2. Based on such a verdict delivered through digitally signed e-mail confirmations from the virtual committee members, the Controller can issue a notice to ISP s in India to do the following.

3.Whenever a request for an objectionable site is received from a surfer, an "Objection Notice" to the following effect is displayed in a pop up box.

" The site requested by you contains information considered "Objectionable" by the Government of the Republic of India vide GO No xxx of xx.xx.xx. The reasons for objection can be found here. (Hyper linked Document) A List of sites presenting a counter view point can be found here (Hyper link to  list of "Counter view point sites")

4. You can click here to enter the site. (Hyperlink to "continue")

The moment a site is declared "objectionable", the Government should notify the same on the internet and invite the public to register their site or Pages containing counter view points. These can be reviewed and if found suitable, added to the list of "Counter View Point Sites".

This strategy will enable the Government to use the public resources to produce content which will neutralise the objectionable material. If these sites do an equally good job, all the persons who are targetted to be influenced by the "Objectionable site" may actually be converted to the counter view point. Imagine some body like Mr Arun Shourie commenting on Kashmir problem. The owners of the "Objectionable sites" would think twice about inviting their audience to see his reasoned views on many of the contentious issues in the market.

Once a system is established for the purpose, the Indian Government can take up a request to other friendly Governments to bring an International treaty on mandating  such services through the ISP s of their countries. India can take international lead in setting up a new treaty for " International Cooperation in Cyber Space Governance".
December 8, 2000

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