Sunday, April 29, 2012

Censorship Of News By Google Is Forsaking Its Do Not Be Evil Motto

Google was known for its fairness, impartiality and respect for civil liberties. The motto of do not be evil gave great satisfaction and comfort to many of its users. Then commercial interests and governmental pressures started eroding the motto of do not be evil of Google.

Now most of us are aware that Google’s motto of do not be evil is at most a slogan these days as Google is openly engaging in censorship and posts filtering these days. In fact, a dedicated Blog titled Websites, Blogs and News Censorship by Google and India is in existence to register all such activities of Google and Indian government.

It is a single place platform where all sorts of past, present and future censorship activities of Google and Indian government have been registered and would be updated from time to time.

I would not try to reinvent the wheel here but would like to share my own observations in this regard. I am part of a citizen journalist platform that is also a part of Google news category. It is known as Cjnews India. For a considerable period of time, I was not bothered to comment upon the censorship activities of Google. However, the censorship by Google has crossed all the limits and I am forced to comment upon the same.

I have summarized the details of the latest censorship act of Google in the article titled Vodafone taxation dispute in India and censorship by Google and I am not going to repeat the entire history here. Rather, I would like to point towards a particular aspect that has skipped the attention of all my colleagues of Cjnews India. 

Whenever a news appears at Google, its pointer is also placed in the search engine results page (SERPs). Of course, this occurs for only the news that gains a top spot as per the significance and value of the news determined automatically by Google’s algorithm.

Of late our news fail to get top slot and this has nothing to do with quality of posts or any other technical reason or search engine optimisation (SEO) issue. This is fine with us but what is surprising is that even if by miracle and for a very short time span a news item appears at the top slot, its pointer at the SERPs never appears. This is happening for the past one year.

Further, if this is not enough and if still the news post is influential, significant and persistent enough to remain on top slot, Google engages in manual action and either removes the same from Google news altogether or removes its pointer for a temporary period.

Of course, if a post is removed for few hours as well, other news would overshadow it even if it reappears subsequently and it would remain on much lower pedestal. We were never bothered by this behaviour of Google as we are more interested in sharing our news and views rather than gaining top spot. But this has put a question mark upon Google’s own commitments, fairness, motto and claims.

If Google gives more importance to commercial interests and governmental pressures and ignores civil liberties in cyberspace, it would cease to be Google. After all, Google is not just a name but a symbol of trust and assurance that our civil liberties would be safeguarded.

But that trust and confidence has long eroded and so is Google motto of not being evil. I hope someone at Google, apart from those who are anxious to censor this post as well, am reading this post and would take notice of the deteriorating standards of Google’s civil liberty protection initiatives and efforts.

Vodafone Taxation, Parliament, International Treaty And Taxation Issues Of India

Vodafone taxation issue has become subject matter of much litigation, controversy and interpretations. It has touched the issue of FDI in India, sovereignty and international arbitration. It also witnessed the episode of Vodafone serving notice upon Indian government over retrospective taxation issue.

Meanwhile, the consolidated FDI policy of India 2012 by DIPP was released. It also covered area of FDI in telecom services, ISPs and telecom infrastructure providing sectors of India. One of the essential conditions in this regard says that FDI in telecom sector shall be subject to laws of India and not the laws of the foreign country/countries.

International community and diplomatic channels have also been involved in this regard. Speaking to Muntazir Abbas of CIOL, noted Supreme Court counsel and managing partner at Perry4Law firm Praveen Dalal said that diplomatic channels are used to negotiate and generate solutions but they cannot override a well defined and Constitutionally valid retrospective taxation amendment law.

Dalal believes that India is losing a significant amount through such offshore deals. This, he said, is happening because India had no law that could have made such foreign transactions taxable.

The government, Dalal said, is trying to achieve two tasks. “The first one is to formulate and enact a validation law that can cure the defects pointed by the Supreme Court while adjudicating the Vodafone’s case,” he informed.

Secondly, as Dalal points out, the Finance Ministry is bringing retrospective amendments to the country’s Income Tax Law so that offshore transactions made after the cut off date can be brought under tax net. This arrangement, Dalal said would bring taxation revenue to India of mass proportion.

It seems even the Finance Minister Mr. Pranab Mukherjee also agrees with Praveen Dalal. Finance Minister believes that the proposed retrospective changes in the income tax law are only “clarificatory” and will not override double tax avoidance pacts. He maintains that the clarificatory amendments had been proposed in the Finance Bill 2012 to state the legislative intent of certain provisions of the Income-Tax Act relating to offshore mergers and acquisitions.

Since the proposed amendments just clarify what is already there in law to remove ambiguity and provide certainty, it will not have any impact on foreign investment flow in the country, Mr Mukherjee said.

Law Minister Salman Khurshid has informed that the issue of amending the I-T Act, 1961, is a part of the finance bill, and will be taken up by Parliament in the first week of May and I have to go by what Parliament decides.

So the ball is now in Indian Parliament’s court and it has to play with it really nicely, says Praveen Dalal. Needless to mention, Parliament of India has to do it in a “Constitutional Manner” suggests Dalal.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Is CISPA Really A Remedy Or A Bad Idea?

United States is taking cyber security very seriously. However, in its zest to ensure cyber security, US is willing to forgo procedural safeguards against any possible misuse of any crucial information involved in the process.

Take the example of Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). One of the provisions in the proposed CISPA allows private companies to share cyber security data with each other and with the government notwithstanding any other provision of law.

Laws and Procedure already exist in US according to which Information can be shared when issues of Cyber Security are involved, informs Praveen Dalal, managing partner of Perry4Law. However, CISPA is intimidating in the sense that it drastically expands the nature of data that can be shared, informs Dalal.

At present, the US government's ability to share data on its citizens is fairly restricted, insomuch as the various agencies must demonstrate cause and need. Further, CISPA is also silent about the restrictions imposed upon agencies like the CIA or NSA who could use the information they gather in most liberal manner.

Meanwhile, the White House threatened to veto the CISPA if Congress approves it in its current form. Through a Statement of Administration Policy on Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), the Obama administration said CISPA treats domestic cyber security as an intelligence activity whereas it should be a civilian one.

It also repeals important provisions of electronic surveillance law without instituting corresponding privacy, confidentiality, and civil liberties safeguards, and does not address the protection of critical infrastructure systems.

Conflict Of Laws And US Companies And Websites

Internet has changed the way we create and share information. Further, Internet has also made the conflict of laws problem more troublesome and complicated. For instance US companies and websites may not comply with Indian cyber laws and vice versa.

As per a recent research analysis by India leading techno legal ICT law firm Perry4Law and its techno legal segment PTLB, US companies and websites are increasingly feeling the pressure to comply with Indian laws, especially the intellectual property and cyber law. Google, Facebook, etc may even be asked to establish servers in India to make compliance with Indian laws easier.

Further, conflict of laws is also posing a big problem for US companies and websites. Those companies and websites that have no physical presence in India find it unnecessary to comply with Indian laws.

Take the recent example of Nirmal baba episode where an ex parte interim injunction was issued against Hubpages.Com and one of its writers known as Indijobs. Not only this, Hubpages was also directed that on the next date it shall provide the complete details of identity of Indijobs and his Author Log in data including contact details, registration data, residence address and IP address to the Delhi High Court in sealed cover.

Since neither Hubpages nor Indijobs contested the suit, it was single sided and ex parte in nature although it could have been well contested. US companies, India, conflict of laws and criminal liabilities issues would become more complicated in the future. It would not be a good strategy to surrender to unjustified demands without a fight.

US companies like Google, Facebook, etc must formulate Techno Legal Strategies for India, suggests Praveen Dalal, managing partner of Perry4Law and leading techno legal expert of Asia. Google is already facing Conflict of Laws Problem in India, informs Dalal.

Further, cyber litigations and disputes are going to increase in India and companies that are eying upon Indian business must not let such proceedings seal their fates.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Civil Liberties In India And Technological Revolution

India has been resisting technological revolution for long. Whether it is draconian information technology amendment act 2008 or Internet censorship activities or e-surveillance obsession or curbing of use of video conferencing, Indian is leaving no occasion to curb technology.

Civil liberties in cyberspace in India are in grave danger as India is more and more anxious to control information and communication technology (ICT). In fact, techno legal experts like Praveen Dalal, managing partner of ICT law firm Perry4Law, have openly suggested repealing of the information technology act, 2000 (IT Act 2000).

The IT Act 2000 is the sole cyber law of India that has become an instrumentality of oppression, censorship and surveillance. For instance, the recent Internet intermediary guidelines issued by Indian government are considered so offensive by all concerned that a motion to annul the same is currently pending before the Parliament of India.

However, even if the Internet intermediary guidelines are annulled, the draconian IT Act 2000 would keep on haunting Indian stakeholders. Internet intermediary were recently asked to pre screen contents before posting. Members of Association for Progressive Communications (APC) can themselves analyse the vagueness and absurdity of any such demand.

Now Indian government may ask Google, Facebook, etc to establish servers in India so that their activities can be watched and controlled. Add to this the lawless and non accountable projects like Aadhar, central monitoring system project of India, national cyber coordination centre (NCCC) of India, etc and you would get a picture of Indian endemic e-surveillance intentions.

Fortunately, Indians have been fighting for human rights protection in Indian cyberspace. Even awareness about human rights protection in cyberspace is spreading at national and international level. However, the call is for the United Nation (UN) to take. Till now UN is very slow in adopting and recognising human rights in cyberspace.

No matter howsoever oppressive a regime may be technology would find ways to defeat the same. With some additional safeguards, anonymity and speech and expression can be further safeguarded.

Indian government must realise that technology is not an enemy but a friend and hostile intentions would not help Indian government anymore. The sooner it is realised the better it would be for the larger benefits of India.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Beware What You Speak Online In India

A very peculiar factor about online behaviour is that people tend to forget everything, including laws, and engage in activities that they would seldom do in real life. There seems to be a false sense of security and anonymity in cyberspace and netizens fall into the trap of engaging in defamation, accusations, misbehaviours, etc in cyberspace without a second thought.

A majority of uncensored rants, posts, accusations, writings, etc are done through social media websites. Very few are aware that we have a stringent social media due diligence in India that all companies and individuals are required to follow. Even there is a stringent cyber law due diligence for press and media in India. So media, companies, social networking websites and individuals must be aware that the cyber law of India can make their acts or omissions punishable.

According to Praveen Dalal, managing partner of ICT law firm Perry4Law and leading techno legal expert of Asia, a single episode of Defamation, False Accusations, Misbehaviour, Cyber Bullying, etc may attract Civil and Criminal Liabilities on the part of those involved in the making, uploading, publication and circulation of the same in an Electronic Form. The Cyber Law of India prescribes stringent Due Diligence Requirements that must be followed by all concerned, opines Praveen Dalal.

Take the recent example of Vishal Dadlani. In order to teach Prem Marhe a lesson, Vishal Dadlani tweeted Marhe's number to his 1.4 lakh followers on Wednesday. If this was not enough, Vishal also expected a retweeting of the same and posting of the number on porn sites.

When contacted, Vishal said, "I wanted to teach him a lesson." On the other hand, Marhe still claims that his claims are right and it is he who has been threatened by the film's team when he asked for credit to his song.

Clearly, Vishal has crossed the line of legality by not only revealing the phone number of Prem but also urging others to retweet and post it on porn websites. Let us see how Prem would react to this act of Vishal.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Are Online Travel Agencies In India Violating Cyber Law Of India?

E-commerce has starting maturing in India. However, e-commerce in India is still managed more from the commercial point of view and lesser from legal angle. A major portion of e-commerce activities in India consist of online travel agencies and companies. Other segments of e-commerce are still evolving in India.

Most online travel agencies in India are using e-commerce method without realising that e-commerce also requires legal compliances. For them mere opening of a website is enough to start e-commerce business in India.

These online travel agencies cannot be blamed as cyber law awareness in India is missing. Further, e-commerce laws in India are still evolving and e-commerce stakeholders in India are not aware of cyber law due diligence in India.

However, ignorance of law is no excuse. This is more so when the cyber due diligence for Indian companies is now well established. For instance, cyber due diligence for foreign websites in India, cyber due diligence for press and media in India, cyber due diligence for PayPal and online payment transferor in India, etc have already been discussed.

Thus, legal formalities required for starting e-commerce business in India must be well understood by online travel agencies operating in India. Similarly, legal requirements to start an e-commerce website In India must also be well understood by online travel agencies operating in India.

In short, legal requirements of undertaking e-commerce in India must be duly complied with by online travel agencies operating in India in order to get maximum benefits out of e-commerce business in India.

In a related development, private airlines IndiGo and Jet Airways have accused MakeMyTrip of offering arbitrary and opaque fares despite objection by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). Opaque fares is a trade practice where a portal sells heavily discounted tickets but does not disclose the name of the airline until the payment is made by the customer. This, at times, results in using the services of an airline that the customer does not wish to avail.

Reacting to this situation, IndiGo has withdrawn all content from MakeMyTrip and Jet Airways has limited the ticket sale to five seats a day on MakeMyTrip.

MakeMyTrip has already removed bargain fares from its site but it is claiming that it did so on March 28th 2012 itself due to the fact that DGCA had asked airlines to stop publishing opaque fares and users could now see all flight details before making the payment. The opaque fare issue had come to light recently following Kingfisher Airlines’ flight cancellations. Travel portals had put up a note saying the carrier was not part of the bargain fares.

However, despite this clarification, some believe that MakeMyTrip is offering an unrealistic rate that is killing the market competition. They believe that MakeMyTrip is acting like a banker to Kingfisher Airlines.

MakeMyTrip has also clarified the issue through a statement that claims that fares and inventory on its website were controlled by airlines and all the fares are displayed according to the guidelines received and approved by airlines, including special fares, which are approved by participating airlines.

According to Praveen Dalal, managing partner of ICT law firm Perry4Law and leading cyber law expert of India, “E-commerce laws and regulations in India need to be streamlined. This must include the regulation of online travel agencies operating in India. Further, these online platforms are also required to observe cyber due diligence and follow the cyber law of India to escape various financial, civil and criminal liabilities opines Dalal.

Presently, there are no express regulations that can regulate the operations and functioning of travel agency portals in India. We need specific industry regulation for online travel agencies of India.