On 31OCT12, PTI/IBN reported on the recent arrest of a Puducherry man after he made “offensive” messages on social media regarding the finances of Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram’s son Karti. He was later released on bail.
Ravi, owning a plastic packaging material factory, was arrested by local Crime Branch wing of CID Police on a recent complaint by Karti that he had posted “offensive” messages against him on three occasions since 2011 on the micro blogging site Twitter, police said.
He was arrested under the Information Technology Act after registration of a case on the complaint by Karti Chidambaram lodged with the Union Territory’s Inspector General of Police, they said.
Although the news at first glance appears shocking, after consideration it’s not entirely beyond the expectations of anyone who reads the Indian news fairly regularly. As an American living in New Delhi, reports like this are certainly concerning as it makes one consider closely anything that might offend anyone remotely connected with India’s personified power elite.
That said, it’s this sort of story that folds in nicely with what we’ve seen in the past with India cracking down other types of communication (such as Vimeo) under the aforementioned 2008 Information Technology Act (ITA). As most freedom of information advocates have pointed out, the major problems associated with the act is the empowerment of the government under Section 69 which provides the government the authority to “block, intercept, monitor, or decrypt any information through any computer resource.” What’s more, those ISPs and firms who fail to comply with the government will face hefty fines and up to seven years in prison.
Although the Chidambaram incident may be a small blip on the radar, it certainly reflects the growing power of the ITA as the rules were recently expanded last year. Accordingly, the government is provided with additional powers to remove within 36 hours any content that regulators designate as “grossly harmful,” “harassing,” or “ethnically objectionable.” And naturally those statements aren’t properly defined in the text leaving a wide berth for interpretation and possible abuse.