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Last Updated: Friday, 12 November, 2004, 06:33 GMT
Bangalore's cyber-cafe crackdown

By Habib Beary
BBC correspondent in Bangalore

Sushma, Bangalore internet user
Net user Sushma will take a wait-and-see approach on the new rule
Priya breezes into the cyber cafe talking non-stop on her mobile.

The 17-year-old will soon be locked in a long online chat with her friend.

She revels in the freedom, so her enthusiasm may well take a knock the next time she checks into the internet kiosk.

Officials of India's first cyber-crime cell, headquartered in the hi-tech capital of Bangalore, will oversee a law that keeps a watch on internet users as a security measure.

Internet cafes will soon have to keep a log book carrying details of users.

If a user does not carry an identity card, the cyber-cafe owner is authorised to photograph the person using a web camera.

Obscene email

"The last thing I want is to be photographed at the internet parlour. Are you sure this is going to happen? What about our privacy?" asks Priya in disbelief.

David, internet user
If it is going to prevent any harm then why not have such a system?
David, internet user

Nothing to be worried about, says deputy inspector general of police, P Ravindranath, of the cyber-crime branch.

"We are not interested with what they are doing. This is only to ensure the identity of the browser," says Dr Ravindranath.

Authorities say most of India's hate and obscene email emerges from internet centres, which are growing by their thousands across India.

Deputy superintendent of police, Chandramohan Singh, estimates that in Bangalore alone there could be 5,000 internet parlours.

"We will soon call a meeting to seek their support for the new legislation," he says, legislation that is intended to deter misuse of cyber parlours and check internet-savvy criminals.

Licence threat

Opinion on the new legislation is divided.

"It is a good thing. If it is going to prevent any harm then why not have such a system?" says David, a surfer at an internet cafe on Brigade Road, a fashionable avenue in central Bangalore.

Cyber crime inspector Radha Mani (L)
Inspector Radha Mani (L) says there won't be much opposition

Sushma, another avid surfer, says: "I don't know whether it will work well. I have had no experience of such regulations before."

A cyber-cafe owner adds: "It is a pain. It will only lead to police harassment."

Cyber cafes that do not comply with the new laws are not only liable to be fined $550 but also stand to lose their licence.

"Cyber users will get used to this new measure," says Radha Mani, the inspector at the cyber-crime station that handles cases of hacking, data theft, source code theft, web site defacement, obscenity and harassment.

"I don't think there will be much opposition."

She says many young women are being targeted with obscene email sent mainly from cyber cafes that have provided anonymity till now.

"Having a record of users will definitely help us track the culprits," says Ms Mani.

Police in Bombay and Ahmedabad are also planning such regulations.

But Ashish Saboo, president of the Association of Public Internet Access Providers, opposes the new rules.

"Such rules do not observe the standards of a democracy in protecting personal freedoms. The fight against terrorism and cyber crime should not lead to systematic monitoring of internet users.

"Can we depend on the cyber-cafe operators' capability to safeguard the data from being misused or stolen?"

Mr Saboo says he fears internet users will be deterred from using cyber cafes and that up to half could close.

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