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Conspiracy to abort Information Technology Act amendments.. advantage BJP

The recent noises being made in the Indian media after ASSOCHAM orchestrated a campaign on the  amendments proposed to ITA 2000 indicate a conspiracy by vested interests to revert the law to an Intermediary friendly form.

I propose to address some of the objections that ASSOCHAM has cited to suggest that  the amendments should be aborted and why I consider them as untenable.

The objections raised by ASSOCHAM and a few others who have joined the chorus now to demand the withdrawal of the Bill are as follows:

1. The amendment bill was passed without debate in the Parliament

2. Amendments make ITA 2000 criminal friendly and weak

3. Amendments donot address “Data Protection” requirements of the industry.

4. Amendments donot address issues such as “Spam”

I would like to clarify that Naavi.org was one of the first to object to the passage of the amendment bill without adequate debate in the Parliament. However, after the contents of the amendments have been made public, Naavi.org was quick to focus on the positive features of the amendment and its “Security Orientation” and come to the conclusion that the amendments are good for the Country at the present point of time. Naavi.org being a Netizen Rights Conscience keeper, has been also suggesting that the security orientation of the amendments  creates certain powers at different levels of the Government including the Police which are amenable for abuse and hence there is a need for a “Netizen Protection Commission” or its equivalent.

In order to appreciate why Naavi.org considers the ASSOCHAM led campaign a “Conspiracy” it is necessary to place the following facts before the public.

1. After the Section 67 case filed on Baazee.com in 2004, a campaign was started in the media that ITA 2000 was faulty. Many of the IT Company chiefs without understanding the concept of Vicarious liability which is part of every law in India, jumped in to sugest that the law required amendments to make intermediaries immune from liability arising out of Cyber Crimes committed in their network.

2. Born out of such an unethical objective, the “Expert Committee” then formed which consisted of mainly powerful portal lobby, came up with recommendations which made people like Naavi realise that there is an attempt to dilute the laws to bail out intermediaries from liabilities even if in the process it made the laws criminal friendly. (Ref articles-2005 at: http://www.naavi.org/naavi_comments_itaa/index.htm ). Hence after August 2005, Naavi.org took up a mission to highlight the unfairness of the proposed amendments which were also accepted by the Ministry and presented as a Bill through Information Technology Act amendment bill 2006.

3.Thanks to the efforts of the Nikhil Kumar who chaired the Parliamentary Standing committee, the Bill of 2006 was returned for changes to the department and  Information technology Amendment Bill 2008 to amend the Bill of 2006 was introduced in the current Parliament on December 15th and passed on December 24th. It was then sent to the President for assent. There are conflicting reports about whether the assent has been received or not. After the Presidential assent, the Minsitry of Communications and Information technology has to notify the act along with the necessary rules and can hold up the implementation for some time.

4. While it is not easy to conceive that the Bill may be aborted at this stage, some enthusiasts in Delhi appear to believe in the clout of ASSOCHAM that the Act may still be put in cold storage and to support such an action are conspiring with planted stories in the media misleading the public that the “Amendments will introduce a weak Cyber law in the country”, “It will be criminal friendly”, “There is no data protection” etc. (refer Business Standard report: IT Amendment soft on Cyber Criminals )

I don’t know how ASSOCHAM can come to the conclusion that the amendments are criminal friendly, soft and lacks provision for data protection or Spam.

The facts are as follows:

1.The amendment addresses data protection under Sections 43A and 72A. 43A provides unlimited liability for data breach and 72A provides for 3 year imprisonment.

2. The amendment addresses Spam under Section 66A along with Phishing,

3. The amendment introduces life term for cyber terrorism. The cyber terrorism acts include DDOS,Hacking,Virus introduction with intent to strike terror and adversely affecting critical IT infrastructure as well as “Conspiracy”  to commit a terrorist activity

4. The amendment  introduces punishments for child pornography,video voyeurism, receiving stolen computer, maintenance of data for specific periods by intermediaries, etc.
The number of sections dealing with offences has more than doubled. All most all offences are cognizable. Govt agencies now have powers to intercept, monitor,decrypt, block access and demand traffic data from intermediaries.

The only dilution is in introduction of pre conditions for application of Section 66 (dishonesty and fraudulent intention) and making the offences compoundable. These are not sufficient reasons to call the amendments weak.

If some persons are calling this amendments “Weak Cyber Laws”, perhaps there is a need to examine if there are any other motives behind the move.

The lobby that wanted an “Intermediary friendly laws” and had successfully manipulated an “Expert Committee Recommendation” and “ITA amendment Bill 2006″ were frustrated by the Parliamentary Standing Committee under MP Nikhil Kumar . This lobby is doing its best to reverse the developments. Media should see through this game and ensure that the security oriented amendments are not sidelined for any reasons. If they succeed, I think BJP will get a great boost to their election campaign that the UPA government developed cold feet in introducing strong legislation to prevent Cyber Crimes.

Those who want to challenge this view may kindly visit www.naavi.org, peruse the amendments, compare it section by section with the present as well as the 2005 and 2006 versions of amendments proposed and rejected and then come to their own conclusion.


February 18, 2009