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“Roskomnadzor” the Russian Watchdog: The Indian Parallel(s)

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Cyber Secure India

The Organisation “Roskomnadzor” initially formed in March 2007 under the Russian Government, was earlier a cultural Watchdog of the nation, which now has grown into a much envied and powerful advisory group to the President of Russia. The laws passed in the recent past now provide “Roskomnadzor” the power to restrict or fully block websites, and is seen as the sole nodal office with the responsibility to ensure that the media and communications in the Russian Internet Space and also on the Global front, follow Russian laws. The organisation is also empowered to issue warnings to media sources that violate these laws. In April 2022, Roskomnadzor fined Google more than 7 billion rubles (USD 94 million), for not removing what it claimed was illegal content from YouTube. The Organisation, being the watchdog has in the past banned the website in the country or has imposed fine on entities like: GitHub, Wikipedia, The Daily Stormer, Telegram, Twitter, Meta (Facebook), TikTok, Chess.com, etc. In its recent advisory the Russian Government has in June 2022 (this month) fined Google again to a tune of 68 million rubles (roughly $1.2 million) for alleged helping spread what it called “unreliable” information on the war in Ukraine and the failure to remove it from its platforms.

About “Roskomnadzor”

The Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, abbreviated as Roskomnadzor (RKN) (Russian: Роскомнадзор [РКН]), is a federal executive body responsible for control, censorship, and supervision in the field of media, including electronic media and mass communications, information technology and communications functions control and supervision over the compliance of personal data processing requirements of the legislation of the Russian Federation in the field of personal data, and the role of co-ordinating the activities of radio frequency service. It is also the body administering Russian Internet censorship filters. It also designs and implements procedures of Russian Autonomous Internet Subnetwork, like inventory of Russian Autonomous Systems, alternative DNS root servers in Russian National Domain Name System, controls local ISPs interconnect and Internet exchanges. The main goal is to provide access to Russian Autonomous Internet Subnetwork even after disconnect or isolation from the global Internet (Sovereign Internet Law) [Source Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roskomnadzor].

Indian Internet Watchdog

India does not have an organisation similar to the Russian “Roskomnadzor”, yet the Democratic System of India allows for monitoring of the web and using the provisions of the Law of the Land to exercise ‘Take-Down’ of content from the web. The Information Technology (IT) Act 2000 (as amended) Section 69A provides for blocking public access to information when the “the Central Government or any of its officer specially authorised by it in this behalf is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient so to do, in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence 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 relating to above”. The Act also proposes a committee which will receive complaints and review them and then pass necessary instructions to the Nodal Officer of these media and web houses.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) Government of India, had earlier passed “Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (‘Intermediary Guidelines’)” and subsequently floated a fresh draft of amendments to the Information Technology Rules, 2021. As per the IT Rules, 2021, that came into effect last year, prescribes a framework for the regulation of content by online publishers of news and current affairs content, and curated audio-visual content. The Law also mandated the creation of government-appointed appeal committees that will be able to veto content-moderation decisions taken by social media intermediaries like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. In addition, under this law, the social media companies were required to appoint India-based resident grievance officers as part of their due diligence as ‘intermediaries’ who enjoy legal immunity from third-party content on their platform. These officers were responsible for overseeing the grievance redressal mechanism of complaints from the people who use their services. Many activists went against the Rules to the court and claiming it to be ‘Digital Authoritarianism,’ and now the Hon’ble Supreme Court has taken cognizance of the issue and has decided to hear the petitioners on the validity of the Rule itself.

Apart from the above mentioned watchdog means, India also has organisations like Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), Indian Cybercrime Coordination Centre (I4C), National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre (NCIIPC), National Cyber Coordination Centre (NCCC), National Cyber Security Coordinator (NCSC) in the  National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) of India; these organisation in some form do have means and methods to report or take cognizance of Cyber Breaches and Content, and suitably advice the Government for actions.

The Need of the Hour

India’s proposal for a Hyper Watchdog for the Internet has been an ‘ask’ since 2012, yet the formal form of the same has not fructified till date. The Government has always struggled between the provisions of the IT Act and also the Upholding of the Rule of Law in which Section 66A of the IT Act was abrogated. The bodies that report to the Government are many, and each of them report on their expertise. The empowered committee under Section 69 of the IT Act, today has the maximum teeth, to exercise their command to ensure the serenity of the Indian Cyber Space. India being a Democratic Republic, has to ensure that any enactment should allow for ‘Personal Liberty’, ‘Fundamental Rights’, ‘Human Rights’, ‘Equality’, ‘Freedom of Speech’, ‘Privacy’, ‘Protection to Citizens’, ‘Peaceful Coexistence’, ‘Guaranteed Safety’, etc; which are enshrined in the Constitution of India for the people of the country. The Cyber Space, is also a volatile space and has its own challenges to both the Government and also to the Citizens who may be subjected to Constitutional Provisions Violations.

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