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India 30 September 2004

Threat to cybercafés

Reporters Without Borders has condemned a threat to confidentiality of cybercafés users in Karnataka State, southern India where the state governor is poised to pass new regulations forcing cafés to provide police with a register of names and addresses of all their clients.

Similar measures are being studied for Maharashtra State, of which the capital is Mumbai, (formerly Bombay).

"Rules about to be adopted in Karnataka and Maharashtra states do not observe the standards of a democracy in protecting personal freedoms. The fight against terrorism and cybercrime should not lead to systematic monitoring of Internet-users", said the organisation.

According to the daily Times of India, the Karnataka law obliges café owners to demand that their clients produce their ID. Failing that, the user should be photographed using a webcam. All the information will have to retained in a register for one year for regular checking by the police.

The local government has said this step was needed to fight cybercrime, but Ashish Saboo, president of the Association of Public Internet Access Providers (APIAP - said, "These new measures are likely to dissuade many Internet-users from going to cybercafés and could lead to closure of almost half of them". He added that he considered that, "keeping this type of register is completely ineffective to fight computer fraud or cyberterrorism".

Police in Mumbai said at the end of January 2004 that new measures against cybercrime would be put before the Maharashtra state government. The new rules would require people to show their ID and give their postal address before using a cybercafé. Owners would also have to install monitoring software at their own expense (400 euros) to block access to pornographic sites and other content deemed offensive. Examination of the new law was temporarily shelved following strong reactions from cybercafé owners in Mumbai, particularly through the APIAP.

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