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May 15, 2000
Govt keen to pass IT Bill, drops controversial amendment
Despite the Opposition's protest, the Lok Sabha (lower house of the Indian parliament comprising law-makers elected directly by people) today took up the Information Technology Bill for consideration and passage, with 34 official amendments brought in after its examination by the standing committee.
Moving the bill, Information Technology Minister Pramod Mahajan said that it would provide legal recognition to digital signatures and documents filed electronically.
The enactment of the bill will enable finalisation of contracts and creation of rights and obligations through the electronic medium, he added. The recommendation relating to hacking with computer systems has been made an offence with imprisonment up to three years and a fine up to Rs 200,000.
The bill, originally introduced in the House on December 16, 1999, was referred to the standing committee on science and technology, which had made more than 35 recommendations. The government has dropped two of the recommendations relating to cyber cafes furnishing information.
Denying the opposition charges that the bill has been brought in haste, the minister said that the government had re-drafted the bill 155 times before bringing it before the House today. He pointed out that it took more than a year to draft the bill.
Mahajan dispelled fears of police powers under misuse of proposed clause 79 of IT Bill 1999, saying that the legislation has been drafted on the lines of Foreign Exchange Regulations Act, or FERA.
Mahajan said the bill was formulated with a view to facilitating transactions carried out through means of electronic data interchange. Transactions carried out using the medium of electronic communication are commonly referred to as ''electronic commerce'', which involves the exchange of information across electronic networks between organisations, business and consumers in the public and private sectors.
The bill, which aims to provide a legal framework for electronic commerce, was listed for debate and passage in the lower house of parliament on Monday.
It aims at facilitating digital signatures, electronic transactions and use of electronic documents as legal records.
"Even the legal community is still exploring it. Let us not rush into it," Congress party leader Madhavrao Scindia said in the Lok Sabha, when the government set a 90-minute deadline for further amendments from members.
But the government seemed determined to get the bill passed on Monday, two days before the parliamentary session ends.
"We have firm intentions to get the bill passed today," Mahajan said.
''It is thus necessary that this alternative to paper-based method of communication, storage of information and conduct of business received legal sanction,'' Mahajan said.
The bill also provides for appointment of controller to supervise certifying authorities who would issue digital signature certificate. To prevent misuse in transactions over the electronic medium, the proposed legislation envisages appropriate punishment for contravention of provisions.
The proposed legislation has suitable clauses to deal with tampering of computer source documents, publishing information and computer systems through a system of appropriate penalties and punishment, the minister said.
Initiating the debate, former Speaker Shivraj Patil of the Congress party said that the bill did not cover the entire legislature, executive and the judiciary nor immovable property
The bill was not intended to help development of information technology, the government should have waited for some more time to remove the loopholes instead of trying to get it passed in haste, he added.
Welcoming the bill, Sanjay Paswan of the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, said the bill must be passed immediately, as India remained far behind other countries in the sphere of information technology. If any loophole was found in implementing the provision of the bill, it could be amended in future, he added.
Policing clauses dropped following industry's protest
The Indian government has dropped a proposed amendment to a planned information technology bill that would have required compulsory monitoring of cyber cafe users by proprietors, an official said on Monday.
Bowing to forceful opposition from the industry, the government today withdrew the controversial insertions in the Information Technology Bill 2000 that could have meant 'inspector raj' in the cyber world making portal registration mandatory and cyber cafes easy target for police raids.
The information technology industry led by the National Association of Software and Service Companies, or NASSCOM and the Electronics and Computer Software Export Promotion Council, or ESC, raised strong objections to two of the recommendations of parliamentary standing committee on science and technology, environment and forests.
These recommendations to be inserted to clause 73 would have meant that all portals or Web sites hosted by any one living in India would need to be registered with the controller. Failure to comply with this regulation could have been punishable with one year imprisonment. Additionally, each cyber cafe was required to maintain details about the persons accessing the Web sites. Failure in this case would also have meant imprisonment up to one year or a fine.
NASSCOM president Dewang Mehta welcomed the decision to drop these two recommendations saying nowhere in the world, the IT industry could work under policing.
He said that the bill was generally sound, other than the proposed amendments that were struck out, but added that "adequate thought process has not been gone through on cyber crimes."
"The IT bill will push up industry. E-commerce, which was Rs 4.5 billion last year, can go up to Rs 25 billion ($ 569.5 million) this year. We do not want a delay in passage of the IT Bill," he said.
ESC president Vivek Singhal said the controversial steps could have meant 'inspector raj' for the IT-enabled industry set to become the most promising segment the software exports.
The NASSCOM president said that it was unnecessary for the government to make it mandatory for registration of every Web site hosted in India. ''It would mean duplication of efforts,'' he said.
He said even ten-year old kids host Web sites. ''The suggestion that cyber cafes should be forced to maintain details about all persons and the Internet sites accessed by them was not a practical suggestion. Moreover, it was also not economically viable to maintain such records."
However, NASSCOM said that the IT Bill in entire gambit has been a well-drafted legislation. ''It would facilitate e-commerce revolution in the country,'' he said.
Bill on semiconductors passed
Meanwhile, the Rajya Sabha passed a bill to protect semiconductor integrated circuit layout-designs, especially needed in information technology, as the existing methods of copyrights and patents do not accommodate the requirements of intellectual property rights protection for such circuits and designs.
The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Designs Bill, 1999 provides protection for such circuits and designs by a process of registration, mechanism and rules to prohibit registration of layout-designs which are not original or which have been commercially exploited.
Mahajan said the world was now accepting India as a power in the information technology area and agreed that the country will have to develop research in the hardware aspects of the IT revolution so that it could become a great power in the field.
He denied that the bill was brought forward under pressure from the World Trade Organisation, or WTO, and said that once India had become a member of this organisation it had to enact laws arising out of its obligations.
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