No, Mumbai’s ACP Vasant Dhoble has not joined Twitter. Nor has he requested the government to block many parody accounts running in his name. But we have a virtual Dhoble running with hockey stick and blocking accounts on Twitter.
Why am I brining Dhoble into Internet Censorship?
Because I find a scary parallel between both the events.
Let’s take the case of ACP Dhoble. In essence, he was just enforcing an old and forgotten law when he forced pubs and nightclubs to close down for over-crowding. Much of the outrage that followed was about Dhoble. There were a few people who pointed out that the law was the problem, but nothing happened on that count. To the best of my knowledge, the law is still there and Dhoble could be back. And he would be on the “right” side of the law again.
Similarly, some Twitter accounts and websites were blocked by the government, and much of the outrage that has followed has been about individuals – whether these “Tweeples” are “right wingers” or not, or whether they indulged in “hate speech” or not.
Those are questions (about ideology, extremism, hate speech, etc.) we can keep debating for years and maybe never ever come to a conclusion. However, we seem to have conveniently forgotten the law (not at all old) that allowed this blocking of Twitter accounts to take place without any legal proceedings.
While the government is trying to portray that it “erred”, the truth is that the government was well within its right to block content by sending a notice to Internet Service Providers (ISPs), which are identified as “intermediaries”.
The government was technically on the “right” side of the law by blocking Twitter accounts of those whom they thought were on the “right” side of the ideological divide.
IT rules, annulment motion for which was unfortunately defeated earlier this year and which are laws of the land now through notification issued in April last year, confer this right to the government authorities to send notices to “intermediaries” for removing “objectionable” content.
When an intermediary receives such a notice, it has two options – either it complies with the government or becomes a party to the legal case that may be filed by the government thereafter.
ISPs like AirTel clearly chose to avoid any legal fight with the government and meekly surrendered.
I would like to say that AirTel is spineless, but when even some of the top journalists of this country have shown no spine to take on the government on the “Free Speech” issue, I have no hope from a corporate house that charges for speech (telecommunications business).
Next time AirTel, or any other ISP, is given such a notice, I have no reasons to believe that things would be different. The IT laws empower the government of the day to arm-twist and harass the intermediaries (by making them a party to legal proceedings) if they don’t block content that the government authorities (not any court of law) find “offensive” or “objectionable”.
There are people, some top shot journalists, who are happy because they think the government applied the law on the “right” people. They have conveniently chosen to ignore the way these people have been blocked (no legal case, no opportunity to argue one’s case, no warning, nothing).
And the scariest part is that this procedure of blocking content without any case in a court of law, or giving an opportunity to someone to defend himself or herself, is legitimate as per the IT laws.
Those happy with what they perceive as “hate” being blocked should remember that the law can be used by other governments too. And you know that there are governments that consider books “offensive” and cartoons “objectionable”.
You know, next could be your turn to be blocked.