New Indian Cyberlaw Lets Government Block Web Access

We had a little fun discussing a recent Chicken Little-ish U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that discussed the potentially terrible effect a flu pandemic would have on the Web. Even if, as the GAO warned, such a pandemic slowed the Internet to a crawl--thanks to people being forced to stay home from school or work and spending their time surfing the Web (not in bed shivering and sneezing)--there's little the government could do about it.

But that's in the U.S. Things are different in India, where a new law gives the government the clout to actually block access to Web sites if doing so would help ensure public order. Whether an inability to shop online can be defined as a form of public disorder is questionable, but there's no doubt an Internet crippled by bandwidth-hogging flu sufferers could wreak havoc with E-Commerce and dent the economy.

According to the Business-Standard newspaper of India, the new law gives the Indian government the authority to “block public access of any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in a computer resource,” including, presumably, data kept by retailers. The government's newfound and far-reaching power is included in a section of the nation's amended Information Technology Act that took effect Wednesday (Oct. 28).

The government can engage in site access blocking to protect the sovereignty or integrity of India, to foster "friendly relations with foreign states" and to ensure good old "public order," said the paper.

In a news release, the government said tightening its 9-year-old IT law was necessitated by “a rapid increase in the use of computers and the Internet," which gave rise to "new forms of crimes like sending offensive E-mails and multimedia messages, child pornography, cyber-terrorism, publishing sexually explicit materials in electronic form, video voyeurism, E-Commerce frauds like cheating by impersonation, etc." India didn't mention the flu, swine or otherwise.