Nothing IT about it
T K Arun
WE, the people, have just been had. The IT Bill that has been passed by Parliament disempowers the citizenry by one additional degree. The President must withhold assent to the Bill. All parties must get together to amend the Bill as they had in the case of the Delhi Rent Control law, which was modified even after being notified.
Section 79 of the IT Bill, which empowers police officers above the rank of DSP and other designated officers of central and state governments to carry out search, seizure and arrest without a warrant, has nothing to do with information technology. That it finds place in the IT Bill is incidental, if not merely a ploy. The purpose and consequence of this provision is solely to furnish the state with additional arbitrary powers over the citizens.
Anybody with a computer in his/her home or office is now liable to harassment. This vulnerability is not a figment of fevered imagination, as the babus and their masters might claim. The Indian state has degenerated to an extent where any official vested with arbitrary and discretionary powers can misuse them for personal gain with very little chance of being penalised for such conduct. A Nosy Parker of a journalist, businessmen who are less than generous in paying homage, babus with over-zealous interest in the virtue of fellow babus, a successful business or political rival, an outspoken representative of a minority community, just about anybody or his child who owns a computer can be harassed on grounds of apprehended cyber crime.
This provision of the IT Act is an attack on our civil liberties. A state that is as dysfunctional as the Indian state is cannot enforce the checks and balances designed to guard against the misuse of discretion. The aim should be to constrict the area of discretion as much as possible.
The justification touted by the minister for IT that, without this provision in the Bill, the even more arbitrary powers of the Criminal Procedure Code would be employed in fighting cyber crime, is no justification at all. If the CrPC has even more arbitrary powers than are contained in Section 79 of the IT Bill, the CrPC needs to be amended to excise the arbitrary powers. Cyber crime cannot be fought by high-handed Pink Panthers in khaki.
Tackling cyber crime calls for cyber savvy, switch-over to a new net protocol, international agreements and cooperation on sharing information, etc. In fact, India needs a whole new doctrine and strategy for cyber safety.
It is possible for mischief-makers to use the Internet to carry out commercial espionage. Military intelligence can be guarded against by physically separating the armed forcesí computer networks from the general network. Guarding against misuse of the Net for information gathering or other purposes calls for a comprehensive policy. It is possible to install in routers embedded software that monitors and filters information. It is possible to distribute such software over the network without it being detected unless specifically searched for.
India needs a cyber security policy that incorporates not only technological counter-measures but conventional intelligence as well to find out what sort of intelligence gathering software is aboard. If India has the right policy and the will to execute it, it would not be difficult to gather the relevant information, given the wide network of Indian professionals working in the sector.
India needs to demonstrate its power to use the Net to collect information on others, and force an agreement that outlaws or shares the results of such collection of information, encryption/decryption technologies, etc. This is the direction in which cyber security should move, not towards arming policemen with arbitrary powers.
The Internet offers the opportunity for broadening the participatory base of decision-making beyond the elected representatives. It should be standard practice for the government to put up all draft legislation on a web site for the public to examine and offer comments. All such feedback should be studied, classified and the results presented to all members of Parliament, just as consultative committee reports are circulated to MPs.
This would facilitate better lawmaking and produce functionally more efficient laws. The government has demonstrated its commitment to IT by passing the law in a hurry. Now, it should demonstrate its commitment to enriching democracy by reopening the Bill and submitting it to online scrutiny and comment.
Source : The Economic Times. May 19, 2000