Saturday's protesters are calling for annulment of the 2011 rules and the repeal of part of the 2008 act. They are also calling for Internet service companies to reverse the wholesale blocking of hundreds of websites, including the file-sharing services isoHunt and The Pirate Bay, as well as the video-sharing site Vimeo and Pastebin, which is primarily used for the sharing of text and links. Internet service providers were responding to a court order from the Madras High Court demanding the blockage, which is aimed at preventing the online distribution of pirated versions of one particular film. The Internet companies, fearing that they would not be able to catch every individual instance on every possible site they host, instead chose to block entire services along with all of their content -- which had nothing to do with the film in question.
Such "John Doe" orders, named because they are directed against unknown potential offenders in the present and future, are characterized "by their overly broad and sweeping nature," argue lawyer Lawrence Liang and researcher Achal Prabhala, which extends "to a range of non-infringing activities as well, thus catching a whole range of legal acts in their net." More broadly, as Delhi-based journalist Shivam Vij wrote in a recent essay: "The current mechanisms of internet censorship in India -- blocking, direct removal requests to websites, intermediary rules -- are draconian and unconstitutional. They need to be replaced with a new set of rules that are fair, transparent and accessible for public scrutiny. They should not be amenable to misuse by the powers-that-be for their own private interests."
Not only are the rules abused, but researchers find that they are causing extralegal censorship by companies that overcompensate in order to err on the side of caution. Last year, the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society performed an experiment in which it sent "legally flawed" takedown demands to seven companies that provide a range of online services, including search, online shopping, and news with user-generated comments. The legal flaws in the notices were such that the companies could have rejected them without being in breach of the law. Yet "of the 7 intermediaries to which takedown notices were sent, 6 intermediaries over-complied with the notices, despite the apparent flaws in them," reads the Centre for Internet and Society report.
Despite the growing public opposition, a motion to annul the 2011 rules was defeated by voice vote in the upper house of Parliament last month. Yet the criticism was sufficiently sharp that Communications Minister Kapil Sibal announced that he will hold consultations with all members of Parliament, representatives of industry, and other "stakeholders" to discuss the law's problems and how it might be revised. Many of the law's critics, however, are skeptical that this will eliminate the law's deep flaws and loopholes for abuse, especially given the government's failure to listen so far. Comments on the 2011 rules submitted last year by the Centre for Internet and Society were not even acknowledged as having been received by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. "Sibal uses the excuse of national security and hate speech," says the center's director, Sunil Abraham, "but that is not what is happening."