Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Celebrating India and the Internet



Two days ago, India's Ministry of Tourism commemorated Independence Day by announcing the creation of a brand channel on YouTube. The channel, which promotes its "Incredible India" campaign, features a range of video content promoting India's past, present, and future promise. The government is one of the first to use our global platform in this way.

Today (August 15 in New Delhi), the 60th anniversary of India's independence, is a perfect opportunity to salute India's government for its commitment to the Internet, to expanding connectivity to all Indians (no matter how rural or impoverished), and to ensuring that the Internet remains a platform for innovation, expression, and communication for all Indians.

The Tourism Ministry isn't the only ministry displaying forward thinking about the Internet. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology -- after extensive consultations with industry and the public -- announced a set of proposed amendments to the Information Technology Act of 2000. While these amendments would certainly move India's technology laws in the right direction, we want to highlight some reservations we have, and some suggestions for improvement we have made. In particular, the proposed draft of one section of the Act -- Section 79, dealing with intermediary liability -- requires a second look. Though it's well-intentioned in nature and many of its objectives are welcome, two clauses could inhibit the growth of the Internet in India by creating an unfriendly and burdensome environment for neutral platforms like search engines, blog hosts, auction sites, message boards, and video sharing services.

Section 79(2)(a)(iii), for one, could potentially strip immunity from any intermediary that exercises any control over content on its network. This would call into question the ability of an intermediary to undertake responsible self-regulatory measures, such as deleting posts, comments, or videos that violate posted terms of service. Indeed, it would call into question even graphical reformatting for access on mobile devices. By removing the liability protections upon any act of editorial control -- including socially responsible self-policing and take-downs -- the proposed Section runs counter to the Government's stated objectives.

Meanwhile, the proposed section 79(3) requires removal of offensive content after merely "receiving actual knowledge of such material." It puts an unrealistically heavy burden on the intermediary to decide correctly, by itself and without the benefit of an authoritative judicial determination, whether the material in question is offensive or not.

Finally, due process safeguards should be added, even when notices about content are sent by the Central Government itself. As currently drafted, Section 79 does not require a hearing by the affected parties or any judicial involvement in these cases. Given the high volume of notices Internet platforms will continue to confront in a world of ever-growing content generated by users, the legislation should ensure that notifications are credible and legitimate before they trigger removals.

Meanwhile, the the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is currently considering a Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill. We applaud the I&B Ministry's willingness to engage in structured and open dialogue with the broader Internet community on the proposed bill. Here again, we want to highlight our concerns about the legislation. As drafted, the Bill could be read to apply television-specific regulations to the Internet, which is an entirely different medium built on different technology with different capabilities and therefore requiring an entirely different regulatory approach. The grafting of television-era regulations onto the Internet would result in an artificially and needlessly crippled Internet sector in India.

The better course would be to exclude Internet and mobile platforms from the scope of the bill altogether, allowing them to be continue to be regulated by the existing Information Technology Act of 2000. Stringent content control and other ill-fitting regulations of the type proposed in the bill will stifle technological development and discourage domestic innovation, especially in sectors like Internet and mobile video. Thanks to the power of Internet technology to enable individual filtering and blocking decisions, we've urged the Indian government to pursue a course of restrained action, confident in the knowledge that that effective tools are available to flag and block inappropriate and unwanted content according to the particular standards of each Indian family and individual.

Internet technologies have democratized the production of culture, opinion, news, and educational information, giving individual users unprecedented power to create, publish, and distribute content. This could be an especially dramatic advantage for emerging economies such as India, which, as it enables ever greater numbers of Indians in every city and village to get online, will benefit from the Internet's ability to afford ordinary Indians the same power to speak and be heard as any individual anywhere in the world. For our part, Google seeks to remain a neutral platform on which users have the freedom to create, to express, and to communicate. To that end, we think it is imperative that the laws and regulations governing the Internet be written carefully and with an appreciation for the unprecedented challenges posed by this new world of democratized, user-generated content.

We're delighted that the government of India is taking the time to struggle with these difficult legal and regulatory issues as it seeks to strengthen the Internet in India -- and that it is taking advantage of Internet services like YouTube to present breathtaking videos of truly Incredible India to the world at large (Seriously, you should check them out.)

Happy 60th Birthday India!

11 comments:

raja said...

Go INDIA go!!!

Andy said...

And let's not forget Mission 2007, the campaign launched by M.S. Swaminathan and a multi-stakeholder coalition of public and private sector entities seeking to connect India's 600,000+ villages to the Internet. They launched the idea a couple of years ago, hoping to employ a variety of models for bringing Internet access to villages, particularly the dissemination of small-business Internet kiosks built upon the STD/ISD telephone kiosk model.

They originally hoped that the project would be complete in time for this month's 60th anniversary of independence, but weren't able to make that ambitious deadline. So now, they've announced they're extending the goal through 2010, changing the name to Grameen Gyaan Abhiyan to emphasize that it's a rural empowerment initiative.

So far most of the effort seems to have focused on best practices for implementing rural internet services and training, but it will be interesting to see if any policy decisions made at the state or national level will help move the initiative forward.

Andy Carvin said...

Hmm... Wondering why my last comment isn't linking to my blogger profile properly. In case it doesn't work this time around, I'll just sign this manually. - andy carvin

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