The recent curbs on social networking websites in India demonstrate the unpredictability of the legal environment, both for businesses and the citizens. Whether its the Government of India’s (GoI) insistence on getting access to corporate emails and text messages sent via BlackBerry devices, or changing stances on “pre-screening” user generated content, the authorities seem to be doing a tap dance around legal issues. The implementation of rules seems surreptitious as they are bent conveniently in the name of “security”.
According to the Government of India, private service providers like AirTel and Vodafone are failing in their legal obligations under the Information Technology Act, hastily amended in the days immediately following the Mumbai 7/11 attacks, by not providing access to the content of emails and texts sent to or from BlackBerry users. As a lawyer, I have some doubt about this legal position, no doubt under discussion between GoI and the service providers. But there is no doubt that the Government has failed to make clear the context of this dispute, or the real consequences of the demands it is making.