The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology is one of the key stakeholders in the Narendra Modi Government’s efforts to boost manufacturing in India. It is also the nodal ministry for the ambitious ‘Digital India’ plan aimed at enabling citizen services through the Internet. But these projects need large funding and, in a bid to attract foreign investors, Communication and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad plans to undertake roadshows in foreign countries this week. Prasad, also the Minister of Law and Justice, in conversation with BusinessLine, shared his thoughts on many issues, including digital India and Internet censorship.
Section 66 of the IT Act has been criticised. Do you think this Government has a different take on this issue?
I am very clear that the Internet should not be censored. But, don’t forget one thing, even ‘freedom of speech’ under the Constitution is subject to reasonable restrictions.
This happened even before the IT Act came into being. If you speak to incite violence or destroy public order, then reasonable restrictions can be imposed. Therefore, only in extreme cases, where the Internet medium is used to incite violence and communal hatred, censorship can be contemplated, but with appropriate safeguards and approval at the higher level. This is how one should work it out. But I am against an abuse of Section 66.
Are you looking at any sort of amendments or inclusion of clauses, so that it reassures the people?
Constitutional assurance is already there. Section 66 cannot transcend the freedom of speech enjoyed under fundamental rights 19(1)(A), which also includes freedom of the Press — expression and press both. But let us not forget many terrorist organisations have used this technology to foment terror.
The Government is asking intermediaries such as Facebook and Google to play a larger role by setting up servers or by monitoring their platforms. Can this be handled better?
The legal and technical frameworks have to go hand-in-hand. Suppose some separatist/ extremist/ terrorist agencies are creating trouble by using a technological platform, the Government has to know the source. This should be done quickly. I know in the US there is a framework in their Patriot’s Act — every service provider has to provide information from whichever part of the world they are dealing with — if information is sought in the interest of national security.
Here, that is not the case. If there is a case where a particular body or individual, motivated by hatred against India or by terrorist/separatist tendencies, is abusing the technological platform, the Government must have the access to that information, to stop the entities concerned from creating further hatred.
That is all I am saying. Therefore, certain elements of caution have to be there.
Recently, the Prime Minister appointed a committee to repeal outdated laws. Can you give us some examples in one or two cases?
Recently, I introduced in Parliament the Bill that repeals some of the laws. There was a Jain Committee report and in the next session of Parliament I propose to bring about a couple of 100 more laws to be repealed. The Prime Minister has appointed a Committee and the Law Commission is also looking into it. The PM’s take is very clear — let an impression not go out that India is only a law-manufacturing country. Laws that are archived and old must be scrapped. That’s what we are going about.