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December 13, 1999
Josy Joseph in New Delhi
The much hyped Information Technology Bill, 1999, which was to be passed in the winter session of Parliament, will be delayed, a cabinet source told rediff.com.
The IT Bill, which is slated to replace archaic laws governing information technology in India and which grants recognition to electronic documents and signatures among other things, will only be tabled in the present session of the Parliament, an authoritative source said.
"At the maximum, it will be tabled during this session, and discussions will take place only in the budget session," the source said.
IT secretary P V Jaikishan had recently claimed at a recent seminar that the IT Bill was top priority for the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and all attempts were being made to convert it into law during the present session.
The comprehensive legislation is ready for tabling before the Parliament, but undue delay in processing parliamentary business, the Ayodhya controversy and other matters have put the bill on the back burner again.
Indications are that some opposition parties, particularly those of the Left, will demand amendments.
Under the legislation, all electronic records and data will gain legal sanctity. Currently, they have none. Maintenance and retention of such documents will be both permissible and acceptable as evidence in courts.
For the bill to be a law, the government will also be amending the Banker's Book Evidence Act, the Reserve Bank of India Act, the Indian Penal Code and the Indian Evidence Act.
The bill seeks to recognize electronic signatures that, professionals believe, could boost e-commerce in the country. If this comes into effect, the use of credit cards for online purchases is expected to increase since it would offer cardholders more security.
The government plans to appoint legal authorities under the act that can grant validity to digital signatures. A controller of certifying authorities will be the sole officer in charge. According to sources in the department of electronics, the controller will also permit officers in foreign countries, "most probably officers at our high commissions and embassies", to recognize similar signatures.
Though the bill suggests that Rs 25,000 should be the fee per signature, DoE sources said this could be brought down so as to make it more "accessible for individuals and small-time business men". The bill also gives the controller the authority to inspect and seize any system in case of a violation. Proposed amendments to the various archaic acts will give him the legal power to take such steps.
There is also a proposal to establish a Cyber Regulations Appellate Tribunal to be headed by a high court judge. This will be an all-powerful authority, with no appeals possible in any court below the rank of a high court. The proposed amendments to other laws will grant the Tribunal all necessary power, sources said, adding that the Codes of Criminal Procedure and Civil Procedure will not be applicable for the tribunal.
A Cyber Regulations Advisory Committee will also be set up to advice the government on issues relating to IT and for suggesting possible laws.
Online forms will be legally recognized for application, even to government authorities. This could ease the pressure for simple forms such as passport applications, ration card applications, voter's identity cards etc, DoE sources said.
The Official Gazette of India, which is printed till now, could also go online, with publication on its web site being deemed an official announcement.
The bill also seeks to curb computer crimes: from hacking to simple cheating. A fine of up to Rs 100,000 is being envisaged in the bill, in the making for the last two years. The penalty could be changed after discussion in the Parliament, sources said.
The crimes listed under the bill include hacking, the unlawful access to networks, the disruption of networks, the injection of virus, the damage of networks and the illegal downloading of material, among other things.
Those who publish obscene material on the net will face a penalty of up to Rs 25,000 and a maximum of two years in jail. These punishments are applicable to Indians who publish material and commit cyber crimes from outside India too.
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