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Government contemplating blocking of website depicting wrong Indian Map

The government is contemplating ban on Google Maps and Bing Maps for questioning the territorial integrity of the country. It has been come to notice of the Government authorities that Global version (.com domain) & Chinese version (.cn domain) of Google is displaying the maps in distortive manner which is grossly misrepresentative of stated Indian official position with regard to its political maps in accordance with rules and guidelines laid down by the Survey of India, a Government arm which is responsible for topographical surveys and publishing authoritative topographical and geographical maps of India. The Government of India considers that maps published for use in the country should contain accurate and reliable information, particularly with regard to the external boundaries and coast-lines of India as wrong depiction of these amounts to questioning the territorial integrity.  Accordingly, instructions have been issued from time to time by the Government of India (Ministry of Defence, External Affairs, Home and erstwhile Ministry of Scientific Research & Cultural Affairs) imposing restrictions on scale and contents of maps which are published. It would be pertinent to mention here that that publication of maps depicting inaccurate external boundaries and coast-lines of India tantamount to questioning the territorial integrity of India and is a cognizable offence under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1961. Section 2 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1961 (Act No.23 of 1961) clearly states that whoever by words either spoken or written, or by signs, or visible representation or otherwise, questions the territorial integrity or frontiers of India in a manner which is, or is likely to be prejudicial to the interests of the safety or security of India, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both. Further, the provision of Section 5 of the Official Secret Act, 1923 is also attracted to the offending act which interalia punishes a person with imprisonment of three years or/with fine if he has in possession any sketch, plan, model, article, note, document or information which is likely to assist, directly or indirectly, an enemy or which relates to a matter the disclosure of which is likely to affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State or friendly relations with foreign States -------.

 
The wrongly depicted map in the aforesaid websites are going to be blocked / banned in India by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, by invoking the Section 69A of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008 read with the Information Technology (Procedures and safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009. While the newly inserted Section 69A empowers the designated government authority to direct any Intermediary (read Internet Service Provider) any website or transmission of any information to be accessed by the general public. The blocking order can be issued by the designated government authority in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence. It may be noted that grounds mentioned in Section 69A to block the websites are similar to those mentioned under Article 19 (2) of the Constitution of India which restricts the fundamental rights including right to freedom of speech & expression. The Information Technology (Procedures and safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009 as the name suggests lays down the procedures, guidelines for blocking of the website or information generated, transmitted via internet for the general public. The rule makes provision for designated officer not below the rank of Joint Secretary who shall be designated by the central government for the purpose of issuing direction for blocking for access by the public any objectionable website. As per the said rules the general public cannot make complaint directly to the designated officer who shall act only on the complaint received by either the Nodal officer to be nominated by each government organization or the competent court. As in the present case, a person may complaint to the nodal officer of the survey of India who in turn would bring it to the notice of the designated officer as mentioned in the aforesaid rules. The rule makes provision for the establishment of the committee comprising of the designated officer as its chairman, and representatives (not below the rank of Joint Secretary) from the Ministry of Law & Justice, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and Indian Computer Emergency Response Team. The committee shall examine the complaint along with the contents of the objectionable website, information etc. The committee would also send notice to the intermediary or person in possession of the computer resource hosting the objectionable content and give them an opportunity of making a representation and finally would make its recommendation to the to the Secretary, Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications & Information Technology, Government of India. If the recommendation of the committee is approved by the Secretary DIT, the designated officer shall direct any agency of the Government or the intermediary to block the offending information generated, transmitted, hosted etc. in their computer resource for public access with the stipulated time as mentioned in the said direction. The provision also provides for the blocking of information in case of emergency in which delay cannot be tolerated and in such a situation the right of the intermediary to make a representation before the committee is done away with, which means that in such an emergency situation the designated officer can block the offending content. However, in this case also the committee after blocking the website has to make recommendation (for blocking) to the Secretary DIT which can accept the recommendation or reject it in which case the intermediary can unblock the information which was temporarily blocked by the order of the designating officer.
 
 
The Google authorities are justifying their global policy to depict disputed regions as per the claims made by the disputing / claiming nations on its global properties which does not in any way endorse or affirm the position taken by any side but merely provides complete information on the prevailing geo-political situation to our users of global properties in a dispassionate and accurate manner. Moreover, the Google authorities are claiming that in a particular country, they have to comply with the local laws, which means that when operating in Chinese Cyberspace, they have to depict Indian map as per the official Chinese position.  Despite the legal compulsion, claimed by the Google authorities, the fact is that the maps depicted by them amounts to questioning the territorial integrity of India which is punishable under Section 2 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1961 read with Section 5 of the Official Secret Act, 1923. The Indian authorities have every right under Section 69A IT Act, 2000 to block the access of such websites depicting such wrongful maps for access to the general public.

 

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