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Wednesday, 18 October, 2000, 11:37 GMT 12:37 UK
India cyber law comes into force
Farmers studying PC
Internet usage in India is spreading
By Jill McGivering in Delhi

A landmark act governing cyber transactions has come into effect in India, making digital signatures legal for the first time.

IT act's provisions
Makes digital signatures legal
Gives police extra powers
Three years jail for hacking
Five years jail for distributing pornography
The Information Technology Act 2000, which was passed by the Indian parliament in May, is the first such legislation, ushered through parliament by the Information Technology Minister, Pramod Mahajan.

It aims to curb cyber crimes and provide a legal framework for e-commerce transactions.

Analysts say the act is an important step in the process of regulating the Internet and its use.

Previously, e-commerce had no legal validity in India.

Now, under this act, the electronic exchange of documents has become a legal transaction, e-mails are recognised by law and so-called digital signatures are also legally binding.

The act also clarifies the powers of the police to enter and search public places, such as cybercafes, without a warrant and to arrest suspects when they believe a cyber crime is being committed.

This area of the act aroused some debate.

Cybercrime

Officials defended it by arguing that previously, under existing legislation not specific to cyber crimes, a constable could be empowered to enter and search.


What we're providing is a fundamental core which establishes the legal basics

Government official
Now, in this area, the rank has been raised to the level of deputy superintendent and above.

"If someone's trying to introduce a virus or trying to hack into an important site, damage can be done in a matter of seconds," said one official.

"We need to be able to act quickly. But we accept that we're dealing with more educated, highly skilled people in this area and it seemed appropriate to increase the level of accountability. "

Some critics of the bill say it doesn't go far enough. Areas such as consumer protection and trademarks on the Internet, for example, aren't covered by the act.

But officials say these areas too will be regulated in due course.

Framework

They see the importance of this bill as establishing a framework for future changes and additions.

Woman watching PC screens
The law will evolve to meet new challenges
"This is an evolving law," said one official.

"With so many different areas, there can't be a single comprehensive bill. What we're providing is a fundamental core which establishes the legal basics."

Hackers can face fines and prison terms of up to three years under Indian law.

Those convicted of distributing pornographic material can face up to five years in jail.

Officials have also acknowledged the need to increase cyber-related training within the police force to make sure the expertise in these areas is available.

E-commerce is booming in India.

One estimate is that e-commerce transactions will rise four-fold in the present financial year, compared to the previous one.

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See also:

23 Jul 00 | South Asia
India tackles cyber crime
16 May 00 | South Asia
India approves IT bill
09 Jul 99 | South Asia
Profit boost for software leader
17 Mar 00 | South Asia
India's high-tech hopes
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