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Website watchdog to get more teeth

New Delhi, Nov. 12: The department of information technology is planning to give more teeth to Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) which was set up in July this year to block websites considered anti-national or carrying otherwise objectionable material.

The department is examining the possibility of penalising websites identified by CERT-In. It is also exploring the legal and technical possibilities to block the websites that promote child pornography and violent sex.

This is not a new phenomenon. “From the beginning of the internet, blocking websites have been seen as an example of exercise of sovereign powers over the constantly innovating medium of the online world. Governments across the world, at various points of time, have flexed their muscles by resorting to blocking of various kinds of websites, “ said Pavan Duggal, a cyber law specialist.

The government had, in September, ordered blocking of a Yahoo group website set up by the Khasi separatist party, Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council which, it said, promoted sedition.

A government notification issued in August states that websites promoting hate content, slander or defamation of others, promoting gambling, promoting racism, violence and terrorism and other such material, in addition to promoting pornography, including child pornography, and violent sex can reasonably be blocked.

According to Duggal, “Neither Section 67 nor Section 88 of the IT Act 2000 empowers the government to create such an authority (CERT). In fact the government has sought to create CERT-In on perceived imaginary powers which the statute never gives the government.”

“The notifications till date remain in paper due to their inherent defects. Further, how do you block pornography with billions of pornographic web pages available on the internet and constantly growing' It is highly unlikely that the government would be able to block pornography,” he added.

He apprehended that the government may succeed blocking some websites in some cases. However, this provision may be misused by political parties in power to silence political dissent, criticism and debate under the garb of so-called factors of the notification, which may have a damaging impact on the growth of Indian democracy.

Government officials point out that the move is to stop websites from hosting messages that are objectionable without hurting their business interests.

“We have had hate mails and hate sites. But what we are trying to do is stop well-known sites from being used to spread misinformation. The attempt is to make those hosting these websites more responsible without compromising on their commercial interest,” said a senior official in the department of IT.

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