The Hindu Today News & Editorials – 08 March 2021

1) Misplaced concern: On Supreme Court and OTT regulation.

Supreme Court should not allow outrage industry to shape moves to tighten OTT content regulation.

GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.


Context:

1. Supreme Court (SC) Suggests Regulating OTT Platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video in India, it favoured a screening mechanism for online video streaming services, dominated in the country by Amazon and Netflix and which currently are aired freely.

2. The Supreme Court on Friday granted interim protection from arrest to Aparna Purohit, Amazon Prime Video’s head of original content in India, in connection with the ongoing investigation against web series ‘Tandav’. The top court also asked Purohit to co-operate in the ongoing investigation.

3. It is a matter of concern that the Supreme Court chose to convert a routine hearing on a petition for anticipatory bail from an executive of the Amazon Prime Video into an occasion to call for tightening the regulatory norms for over-the-top streaming services in the country.

What are the Over-The-Top (OTT) streaming services?

1. An over-the-top (OTT) is streaming media platform online service offered directly to viewers through Internet. OTT bypasses cable, broadcast, and satellite television platforms, the companies that traditionally act as a controller or distributor of such content.

2. It has also been used to describe no-carrier cell phones, where all communications are charged as data, avoiding monopolistic competition, or apps for phones that transmit data in this manner, including both those that replace other call methods and those that update software.

3. Over-the-top (OTT) is platform where Individuals who watch video via any app or website that provides streaming video content and bypasses traditional distribution. Examples include HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube/YouTube Red and SlingTV etc.

 

The Supreme Court verdicts (Concern):

1. It is quite unusual and, in fact, gratuitous, that a constitutional court should push for more stringent rules after finding that the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, did not provide for punishment and fine.

2. The Court’s very approach is way out of line. The new rules are essentially restrictions on free speech and expression through digital media. Courts generally examine the validity of such curbs on free speech and decide whether they are reasonable or too restrictive.

3. It is unusual that the apex court should seek to go beyond what the executive describes as ‘soft-touch monitoring’, and press for inclusion of punishment clauses.

Religion and Challenge with court verdict:

1. While refusing pre-arrest bail, the High Court has made an unusual claim that the title ‘Tandav’ itself could hurt the sentiments of a majority of Indians because it is associated with Lord Shiva.

2. It has observed that alluding to Lord Ram gaining popularity on social media is a reference to the Ayodhya dispute, and, therefore, offensive. It has a sweeping claim that the Hindi film industry, in contrast to its southern counterparts, was generally disrespectful to the Hindu religion.

3. It would be unfortunate if the judiciary lets itself be seen as departing from its record of protecting individuals harassed by those claiming that their religious or cultural sentiments have been hurt by some work of art, or even remarks or gestures by celebrities.

Regulatory mechanism under existing laws:

1. The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), on 11 February, announced the adoption of a ‘toolkit’ to implement the Universal SelfRegulation Code that was signed by 17 major streaming services and put in motion on 4 September 2020.

2. All such platforms come under the Information technology Act, 2000 as they qualify to be called as Intermediaries .Section 79 of the IT Act, intermediaries must exercise due diligence while streaming content.

 

The Self regulation emphasis on abiding “Laws”:

1. The Indian Penal Code, Section 293 (to punish anybody violate Copyright), IPC Section 295 A (outraging religious sentiments), IPC Section 499 (such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person) and Section 354 (Any act of publishing defamatory who insults any woman’s modesty).

2. The Indecent Representation of Women (Prevention) Act, 1986 acts, the complete prohibition of indecent representation of women in advertisements, books, movies, painting etc.

3. The POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act, The offence to sell and distribute child pornography.

4. Sections 67A, 67B, 67C and 69 A of “the Information Technology Act, 2000 “provides penalty or imprisonment to published any kind of obscene material: like sexual content.

To violate the Freedom of Speech but right under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution who authorizes the government to impose, by law, reasonable restrictions upon the freedom of speech and expression.

Conclusion:

1. The Content on these platforms is not subject to vetting. But the government new rule has ordered that the platforms classify content into five categories based on the age groups it would be appropriate for. Case was concerning freedom of expression granted under Article 19 of constitution.

2. The new norms for regulation of online content have their origin in the Supreme Court voicing concern about child pornography and content that could provoke sectarian violence. While that was a justified concern.

3. The tendency to allow anyone professing a sense of hurt to prosecute anyone anywhere in the country should not be encouraged. The higher judiciary is expected to clamp down on the ‘marketplace of outrage’, not join it.

 

2) Now, an expanded horizon of surveillance.

‘Citizen Watch’ gets a new meaning after the notification on the IT Rules, 2021 the promotion of lateral surveillance.

GS-3: Challenges to internal security through communication networks, role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges, basics of cyber security;


Context:

1. The Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C), under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), launched the Cyber Crime Volunteers Program with the aim to allow citizens to register themselves as “Cyber Crime Volunteers’’ in the role of “Unlawful Content Flaggers”.

2. Now, an expanded horizon of surveillance ‘Citizen watch’ gets a new meaning after the notification on the IT Rules, 2021  the promotion of lateral surveillance.

3. As per the official website of the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal the programme will help law enforcement agencies in identifying, reporting and in the removal of illegal/unlawful online content.

National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal:

1. This portal is an initiative of Government of India under ministry of home affair to facilitate victims/complainants to report cyber crime complaints online.

2. This portal caters to complaints pertaining to cyber crimes only with special focus on cyber crimes against women and children.

3. Complaints reported on this portal are dealt by law enforcement agencies/ police based on the information available in the complaints.

4. It is imperative to provide correct and accurate details while filing complaint for prompt action.

 

An explainer:

1. This is a form of surveillance, which enables citizens to “watch over” one another is called lateral surveillance. The conventional understanding of the term, surveillance, is its use in the hierarchical sense,

2. The vertical relationship between the person watching and the person being watched, which is usually the state and its citizenry. Lateral or social or peer-to-peer surveillance differs from typical surveillance.

3. While surveillance of any kind shows an imbalance of power between the person who surveils, and the one under surveillance, lateral surveillance specifically ensures that the imbalance of power no longer exists.

4. Informal watching of communities by their members has been an age-old part of society, and its members view it as a harmless activity. The problem arises when it is organised and state-sponsored.

Its extent in Indian states:

1. The programme, which will be launched all over the country, is going to have its test run in Jammu and Kashmir and Tripura

2.. The state-sponsored lateral surveillance has been implemented in India. For example, the C-Plan App in Uttar Pradesh launched for keeping a tab on anti-social elements, is designed to receive inputs from certain identified individuals in villages across the State.

3. The scope of lateral surveillance was greatly expanded during the pandemic lockdown, both with and without the introduction of technology.

4. The Karnataka government released a PDF with the names and addresses of around 19,000 international passengers who were quarantined in Bengaluru

5. In delhi, a woman was harassed and boycotted by her neighbours after the Delhi government marked her house with a quarantine sticker.

 

Tool for exclusion, suspicion:

1. The lateral surveillance is used further for emotional objectives such as community building and strengthening relationships with neighbors where emotional and social factors act as a driving force, thus creating a situation where privacy may be undermined for the betterment of the community.

2. The surveillance technologies not only act as a tool for social control but also as a tool for social exclusion. Lateral surveillance thus makes it easier to discriminate between those who conform to the social norms of the majority.

3. This not only made it difficult for authorities to collect information but also increased troubles for the people belonging to the sexual minority in getting themselves tested.

In policy:

1. Despite the potential harm, the government, on February 25, notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 which intends to expand “due diligence” obligations by intermediaries.

2. This not only substantially increases surveillance but also promotes lateral surveillance.

3. This will further create an incentive to take down content and share user data without sufficient due process safeguards, violating the fundamental right to privacy and freedom of expression.

 

Online Safety Tips:

1. Cyber awareness among child, Talk to your children about the potential online threats such as grooming, bullying, and stalking, keep track of their online activities. And protect your child from Cyber Grooming.

2. Secure your online presence just like you secure yourself:If you have not selected the right settings on your social media accounts, then photos and videos posted can be viewed, downloaded and used by others without your knowledge.

3. All organisations should have clear and strong HR policies on how to deal with content on Child Pornography (CP)/ Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) or sexually explicit material.

4. Under Section 67 and 67A of Information Technology Act, 2000 makes publication and distribution of any material containing sexually explicit act or conduct in electronic form a punishable offence.

5. Section 67B of IT Act, criminalizes browsing, downloading, creation, publication and distribution of child pornography.

 

Conclusion:

 

1. With the introduction of ‘Citizen Watch’ technology and development of applications such as Citizen and Nextdoor, monitoring of people and their behaviour has become easier.

2. The government and private sector institutions alike collect swathes of data for supposedly ‘public functions’. Specifically in the sphere of crime prevention, much like the cyber crime prevention programme, there has been a transition in the outlook from a ‘punishing state’ to a ‘preventive state’.

3. State-sponsored lateral surveillance is harmful as it creates a culture of ‘hate’, ‘fear’ and ‘constant suspicion’ against an ‘enemy’. Wherever the state identifies that it “cannot be everywhere”, it deploys this mechanism.

4. Such perceived threats have a tendency to increase intolerance, prejudice, xenophobia and casteism in our society, while also violating the fundamental right to privacy, and, consequently, the unfettered expression of free speech and behaviour.

 

3) Health first, fiscal prudence later

 The government can balance LPG subsidies and ensure clean fuel consumption in poorer households.

GS-2: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.


Context:

1. The Subsidised LPG prices have increased Rs 50 per cylinder this month but industry executives said there is not much clarity on whether most customers would receive subsidies to cushion the impact.

2. The impact of this in sustaining the gains of the government’s flagship scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY).

Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY:

1. Prime Minister’s Lighting Scheme was launched by Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi on 1 May 2016 to distribute 50 million LPG connections to women of Below Poverty Line (BPL) families.

2. A budgetary allocation of ?80 billion (US$1.1 billion) was made for the scheme. In the first year of its launch, the connections distributed were 22 million against the target of 15 million.

3. As of 23 October 2017, 30 million connections were distributed, 44% of which were given to families belonging to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

4. Since 2016, PMUY has provided LPG connections to 8 million poor households to reduce women’s drudgery and indoor air pollution.

5. Providing an upfront connection subsidy of ?1,600, PMUY helped expand LPG coverage to more than 85% of households. In comparison, less than a third of Indian households used LPG as their main cooking fuel in 2011.

 

The cooking gas subsidy:

1. The government, cooking gas subsidy has shrunk to Rs 1,126 crore in the first half of this financial year from Rs 22,635 crore for the entire 2019-20.

2. LPG subsidy had fallen 28% in 2019-20 from Rs 31,447 crore in 2018-19 as oil prices stayed low and domestic refill rates rose.

3. Multiple studies assessing PMUY concluded that while access has increased, many new beneficiaries are not consuming LPG in a sustained manner.

4. Large-scale primary surveys by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) suggest that, on average, recent PMUY beneficiaries consumed only about half the LPG compared to long-standing regular consumers.

 

Limited uptake of LPG among poor households has two main reasons.

1. First, the effective price of LPG is not affordable for such households, despite the subsidy.

2. Second, many rural consumers have access to freely available biomass, making it difficult for LPG to displace it.

3. Beyond causing indoor air pollution, biomass use for cooking contributes up to 30% to the ambient PM2.5 at the national level, more than the contribution of transport, crop residue or coal burning.

 

Changing prices:

1. The recent increases in the subsidised LPG price have made it more difficult for the poor to sustain LPG use. India determines domestic LPG prices based on imported LPG price we import more than 50% of our consumption.

2. As the pandemic set in, the LPG subsidised price began to rise, even when global LPG prices plummeted, contributing to the refiners’ margins and government finances.

3. However, now with LPG prices rising globally, a 50% reduction in the LPG subsidy budget for FY22 (versus FY21) does not bode well.

4. The government is either banking on low global prices (wishful thinking) or reducing its subsidy burden significantly, even while offering 1 crore new connections under Ujjwala 2.0 in FY22.

5. The government’s lack of transparency in the pricing of subsidised LPG adds further to the citizen’s plight. The information about LPG price build-up and subsidy has become more difficult to obtain in recent years.

 

Better targeting:

1. Currently, the government provides a uniform subsidy per cylinder to all LPG consumers (PMUY or otherwise). Many long-term LPG users, who are also middle- and higher-income households, will continue to use LPG even at a (higher) unsubsidized price.

2. In contrast, economically poor households need a greater subsidy to make it affordable for them to use LPG as their main cooking fuel.

3. One approach for such targeting is to rely on the existing LPG consumption patterns of consumers. Provide households exhibiting low consumption or a decline in LPG consumption over time with greater subsidy per cylinder to sustain health gains.

4. The subsidy levels could be dynamic with different slabs reflecting the previous year’s consumption. Alongside, the de-duplication efforts to weed out households with multiple LPG connections must continue to avoid subsidy leakages.

 

Conclusion:

1. Most cooking gas customers have not received subsidies as the combination of international oil price collapse and domestic refill rate increases brought parity between subsidised and market rates.

2. In the post-pandemic rebuilding, the continued support to the economically poor for sustaining LPG use is not merely a fiscal subsidy but also a social investment to free-up women’s productive time and reduce India’s public health burden.

3. The balance LPG subsidies are a social investment will yield rich dividends in the years ahead through a healthier and productive population.