Here’s another techie booked for behaving badly on Orkut, Google’s networking site. Rahul Krishnakumar Vaid was booked this month under section 292 of Indian Penal Code and section 67 of the Information Technology Act for posting vulgarity in a community called ‘I hate Sonia Gandhi’. Google is said to have cooperated whole heartedly with the Indian police in nabbing the offender by providing information on the email id from which the mail was sent. Now if found guilty, Vaid would have to pay a hefty fine of about US$ 2500 or a five year stint in jail. His crime is not posting a comment but ‘vulgar’ comments on Orkut, and the owner of the community in this case is not considered guilty for hating anyone in public.
Barely a few months back, another techie Lakshmana Kailas was booked similarly in an Orkut defamation case on the Marathi icon Sivaji and later found to be innocent. The techie’s IP address was wrongly conveyed by the ISP to Indian police, and the techie is waging a damages war with Bharti Airtel, the ISP.
These cases are not peculiar to India alone. In Morocco, a man was arrested in February because he impersonated the King’s brother on Facebook. Facebook cooperated fully too and the man’s identity was out to the police in hours. The man was released later in mid-March on royal pardon, but in India cases like these can drag on and in the case of the innocent techie, he had to spend nearly two months in jail in pitiable conditions before his innocence was proved and he came out of jail.
In China, Yahoo has helped out with email ids of the ‘dissident’ elements leading to arrests. Google and Microsoft have a heavy censoring agenda in the Chinese jurisdiction as well. Human rights groups and Chinese ‘dissidents’ have led Yahoo to court on these cases and lobbied heavily in the US on these policies. Yahoo always does condemn repressive policies but continue to aid it by helping out with these address issues. In fact last year, during a hearing session with the US Congress, Yahoo promised that it would do better to protect the rights of such dissidents.
Internet companies are now under heavy discussion across the web on whether the action of providing the identity of users is legitimate or not and violating privacy concerns. Google has come out defending its stand saying that while it still has a committed stand on privacy, local laws of the countries in which they operate have to be obeyed. So obviously there is a fine line somewhere between whether a company can afford to irk local authorities and hope to carry on business in the country. What is contradictory here is something that is legitimate in Europe or the US may be an extreme case of crime in some parts of the world.
The embarrassment of the US government over the Chinese issue has prompted House Representative Chris Smith(R-NJ) to propose a bill to push a Global Online Freedom Act in the US. This bill if passed would crack down on US based companies in other nations providing help to censor the Internet in operating areas. The reason to provide such information would have to be ‘legitimate foreign law enforcement purposes’. Up to $2 million in penalties and possibilities of punitive damages await the companies.
That clause covers what’s happening in India, where offending a celebrity dead or alive is something one can commit involuntarily, in sleep or in art. The digital providers are definitely on a tight rope walk now having to please a whole lot of people to operate in a geographic area. But ultimately if business is to boom, the customer would have to be comfortable about his privacy being protected and not have the police knocking at his doors when relatively minor offenses are committed.
Anyway the writing on the wall is, just think twice before you post!