Dealing with net offenders in foreign sanctuaries

| by B.Raman

( December 07, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) In an article of August 7,2011, titled “A Venomous Glee Over the Internet” available at here, I had drawn attention to some venomous propaganda being carried on in the Net against Mrs.Sonia Gandhi, Barkha Dutt and Sagarika Ghose, the well-known TV journos, in the wake of Sonia Gandhi’s departure to the US for medical treatment.
2.Even earlier, I had noticed a vicious campaign against Barkha Dutt by suspected Hindutva elements when she was in Libya. Some of them were noticed by me disseminating messages wishing that she will die in Libya. I remember warning some of these tweeters that if they did not stop this vicious campaign wishing for her death, I would be constrained to report the matter to the police. This campaign stopped thereafter.
3. It revived again after Mrs.Sonia Gandhi was taken to the US for medical treatment and Barkha defended Sonia Gandhi’s right to privacy. Whereas I did not go public over the vicious campaign against Barkha wishing her death while she was in Libya, I decided to go public with regard to the fresh campaign which was directed against Barkha as well as Sonia Gandhi and Sagarika Ghose. Hence, the above-mentioned article.
4. I had mentioned in that article that while those who indulged in such campaign seemed to be in small number their viciousness should not be ignored and suggested that instead of imposing any curbs on the misuse of the NET by these vicious elements, the Government should act against them under the existing laws.
5. I have always been strongly against any curbs on the use of the Internet by such elements not only because the curbs will be a violation of fundamental rights guaranteed to all citizens, but also because such curbs will be unenforceable. At the same time, I felt that some action should be taken against these elements under the existing punitive laws
6. In the US, wishing death in public for the President and other prominent personalities is immediately taken notice of by the Secret Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other similar organizations and an enquiry initiated against the offenders.
7. We have been taking lightly the mischievous activities of persons expressing wishes through the Net for the deaths of prominent personalities. I felt that the time had come to act against such persons.
8. However, I was surprised by reports carried by our media during the last two days that Shri Kapil Sibal, the Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology, had embarked on an intimidatory campaign against the service providers of social networking sites to demand pre-censorship and ban on such objectionable posts and tweets without following the due process of law. I strongly deplored his action and even suggested that someone should initiate a public interest litigation against him.
9. My suggestion was that the solution lies in a vigorous prosecution of the offenders after they had disseminated the objectionable posts and tweets tending to incite violence instead of preventing through arbitrary executive action.
10. “The Hindu” of December 7 has carried an interview with Sibal in which he has explained that prosecution of the offenders has not been possible because many of the offenders operate from safe sanctuaries abroad and they cannot be prosecuted under Indian laws. The only way of stopping them from misusing the Net for inciting violence is through executive action with the co-operation of the service providers.
11. This is a genuine difficulty of which I was not aware even though I strongly suspected that many of the Hindutva storm-trooper elements misusing the net for their vicious campaign were based abroad, particularly in the US.
12.Other countries also face this problem of elements operating from foreign sanctuaries misusing the Net for such campaigns. I am told that since action for prosecution is not possible, they have developed a capability for erasing such offensive postings and tweets that tend to incite violence. We should also think and act along these lines. Under the existing laws, the Government has the power to seize printed material that seek to incite violence.By enacting appropriate laws, the Government could arm itself with legal powers to erase posts and tweets that tend to incite violence. 

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com Twitter: @SORBONNE75 )

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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