By Shalini Singh

Membership of the Cyber Regulation Advisory Committee (CRAC), which is meeting on Thursday to discuss problems with the IT Act, is divided among the government, industry and some select academia from the IITs.

The Committee is chaired by Mr. Sibal and its membership includes the Secretaries of the Ministries of Law, Telecom, Information Technology, Finance, Defence, Home Affairs and Commerce.

It also includes the Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Director Central Bureau of Investigation, Controller of the Certifying Authority, Director General of Police and IT Secretaries from States as well as director, IITs — all by rotation, as well as representatives from industry bodies NASSCOM, ISPAI, CII, FICCI, and ASSOCHAM.

While civil society has communicated its keenness to attend the meeting, it was unsure whether it would be allowed to participate.

Mr. Sibal has already held a meeting where several members other than the Advisory Committee had attended, including Members of Parliament, media, industry and select members of civil society and academia.

He has maintained that the intent of the IT Rules is not to impact free speech under any circumstances, but equally that the law cannot be scrapped entirely, just because it is being misused.

Seeks amendment

Civil society, however, remains unconvinced and has repeatedly sought an amendment. Parminder Jeet Singh of IT for Change said: Section 66 A from the IT Act requires a serious relook and must be completely redrafted.”

Other civil society groups such as Software Freedom Law Center, Internet Democracy Project and Center for Internet and Society (CIS), have also expressed concern with the IT Rules.

In fact, CIS had put out the details of the 309 items that were blocked after the U.P.-Assam riots in August, when public outrage was at its peak on the potential misuse of the Act in what the civil society members term as vague language.”

Explaining this in the context of the Mumbai arrest of the two women post-Thackeray funeral, Mr. Parminder Jeet Singh said: The main problem is that Section 66 A tried to be the omnipotent law about everything that can be said or done on the Internet. It has all these vague terms like insult, and proposes new crimes’ like blasphemy. It is not all easy to figure out what these terms mean, especially when they seem to implicate all kinds of communication — private, personal, public and mass.”

Government’s stand

The government, on its part, has so far maintained that several of these words have been taken from existing laws and U.N. treaties. It has been the government’s view that several of the words in the IT Act and Rules have been taken from other Indian legislations and in some cases, U.N. treaties. They also incorporate suggestions made by industry and are consistent with service terms of Internet companies such as Yahoo.

Legal infirmity

Emphasising the extent of the legal infirmity, Mr. Parminder Jeet Singh said: As it stands today, I doubt whether this section of the IT Act can even survive a Constitutional challenge with regards to Section 19.”

Originally published in The Hindu.