Freedom of speech and IP addresses in India

A man in Bangalore was arrested and put in prison because he posted some disrespectful pictures of an Indian national hero on Orkut. This particular hero died over three centuries ago, but I guess he could still be upset, if you believe in reincarnation.

Now, there are some worrying questions here about freedom of speech in India, but they’ve been somewhat overshadowed by the discovery that the chap in question didn’t actually do it. The authorities went to Google (Orkut’s owner) for information on the perpetrator of this heinous crime. Google duly handed over the IP address, so they then went to the ISP concerned, who told them the user of that IP address, and he was promptly arrested and put in prison.

Unfortunately, the ISP, Airtel, seems to have slipped up and given the wrong information. After three weeks, this was discovered, and Mr. Kailash was released. The police are saying it’s not their fault, and that he should sue his ISP. Many of us have been tempted to sue our ISPs for a variety of reasons, but wrongful arrest isn’t usually one of them!

Anyway, there are some interesting lessons here for people like me who are dreadfully lax when it comes to campaigning about privacy issues. I’ve always said that I could never be a good conspiracy theorist because I don’t have sufficient faith in the competence of most authorities to construct a decent conspiracy.

But perhaps it’s the incompetence, not the conspiracies, that I should actually be worried about!

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