I've written previously (here and here) about how Senator Leahy's "Protect IP" Act would license (give a safe harbor to) banks and advertisers that take it into their own hands -- bypassing law enforcement and the courts -- to shut down web businesses that offend them or the corporations with which they do business. This is another one of Congress' stick-it-to-the-upstart "reforms" that are part of the corporate takeover of federal legislation.
Via a tweet from Nixxin, I read an article about the Cyber Cafe Rules in India. The Cyber Cafe Rules aren't strictly analagous to the corporate vigilante safe harbor Sen. Leahy would put in place, but they do implement what seems like a mass deputization of private businesses to police the online activities of citizens. (Different means; both end-runs of legal due process for the average citizen.)
The Indian Cyber Cafe Rules require each operator of an internet cafe to log the names, contact information, computer terminal used, and login and logout times of each person who uses the facility. This log must be backed up and stored for at least one year. Wouldn't it be simple for users to register with fake names and false contact information? Doesn't sound like it. The rules say that "The Cyber Cafe shall not allow any user to use its computer resource without the identity of the user being established." This could mean checking a passport, voter ID card, driving license, or other forms of ID.
The article I read, by Nitin Pai, suggests that the ostensible government interest being served here is probably the combatting of terrorism, but then points out there is a also a broad agenda of content censorship that could not possibly related to terrorism concerns. Another set of rules, promulgated at the same time best I can tell, says that the the operator:
". . . shall inform the users of computer resource not to host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, update or share any information that —
(a) belongs to another person and to which the user does not have any right to;
(b) is grossly harmful, harassing, blasphemous defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, libellous, invasive of another 's privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically objectionable, disparaging, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, or otherwise unlawful in any manner whatever;
(c) harm minors in any way;
(d) infringes any patent, trademark, copyright or other proprietary rights;
(e) violates any law for the time being in force;
(f) deceives or misleads the addressee about the origin of such messages or communicates any information which is grossly offensive or menacing in nature;
(g) impersonate another person;
(h) contains software viruses or any other computer code, files or programs designed to interrupt, destroy or limit the functionality of any computer resource;
(i) threatens the unity, integrity, defence, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states, or public order or causes incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence or prevents investigation of any offence or is insulting any other nation."
But the experience makes me look again at Sen. Leahy's bill and wonder if there aren't also free speech flaws in it.
Photo by Hynek Moravec, "Internet café in Varanasi, India with gekkons in summer 2001."