Govt pushes IT bill to control social media

Kathmandu, 31 December 2019

The ‘Information Technology Bill’ has been passed by the majority of the Development and Technology Committee of the Parliament for the security of social media users. Sunday’s meeting of the committee, despite opposition from the main opposing party, Nepali Congress, passed the report of the bill on a majority basis.

The bill will now be introduced in the House of Representatives and, if passed by both the houses, will come into law. According to the bill any content that mocks, harasses, hates or incites hatred, character assassination or abusive content on social media, will result in imprisonment for up to five years and a fine of up to Rs. 15 Lakhs.

The government had proposed to imprison the guilty for three years or a fine of up to thirty thousand, or both, on the allegations, which was much criticized. But the parliamentary committee has made it even tougher.

The Committee has equated the punishment for lashing out at anyone on social media and the punishment for transmitting any issues that disrupt national unity and independence. The subject of disrupting national unity and independence will be also imprisoned for up to five years and a fine of up to Rs. 15 Lakhs. The government had previously proposed a similar punishment.

In addition, there is a provision that the government can instruct the users concerned about the assassination of one’s character and the removal of material which may disrupt national independence. The bill also provides for punitive imprisonment of up to three years or fine of up to Rs. 5 Lakh or both in cases of spreading such content.

The main opposition Nepali Congress has different views on the provisions. “These laws are contrary to the principles of criminal justice and freedom of expression,” said a different opinion submitted by the Nepali Congress to Kalyani Kumari Khadka, the chairperson of the committee.

If the bill is passed as it is, then it is contrary to the spirit and ethics of the constitution. Congress MPs claim that it will violate civil liberties and fundamental rights.

Information technology court in the province

An information technology court will be set up in each province under the chairmanship of the district judge to look into the issues pursuant to this act.

The government had proposed to set up such a court under the chairmanship of a law member. The parliamentary committee has made arrangements to set up an information technology court under the chairmanship of the district judge appointed by the government to make it more clear.

There will be two government-appointed officials in these courts. Unit a court is constituted, Article 115 of the Bill, which deals with the jurisdiction of initiating, prosecuting and administering the proceedings pursuant to this act will be followed in district courts.

Permission should be obtained prior to using software

According to a bill passed by the committee, the use of software now requires prior approval from the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.

Article 89 of the Bill states that prior permission should be obtained from the Ministry before using any software, electrical system or device used for the purpose of study or information regarding computer, electrical systems or electrical equipment.

It is stated that the concerned person should make an application to the ministry with clear permission for the purpose, type of equipment and the time period for which it is to be used. But Congress lawmakers have expressed dissent, saying that such a law is both difficult to enforce and can be misused.

National Information Technology Center

Article 120 of the bill passed by the committee envisages establishing a national information technology center in the union to operate government data centers, networks, and email.

The National Information Technology Center, headed by the Secretary of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, consists of the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers Office and the Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, the Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Communications and the two members nominated by the Government of Nepal. The executive director has been made to be a member secretary. The Executive Director shall be appointed by the Government.

The center will work on the collection of all kinds of data for the development of information technology, the expansion of the government network, the operation and the management of the system.

Social network registration mandatory

If a bill like this is passed by the committee, social media related companies like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others should be registered in Nepal.

Article 91 of the Bill states that anyone wishing to register a social network must register in accordance with this act. “The Government of Nepal will be able to restrict the use of unregistered social networks,” stated in sub-section 3.

It is said that the social networks operating from the beginning of the act should be registered within the stipulated time. It is mentioned that the application should be made in the Information Technology Department for social network registration. Also, registration must be renewed annually. The government had proposed to renew the registration every two years. But the committee has dropped it to a year.

Congress lawmakers have expressed their dissent, saying the purpose of registering social networks is unclear. “What if the operators of social networks are foreign and they are not willing to register in Nepal?” Congress MP Bahadur Singh Lama said at a meeting of the committee, stating his differences. He claimed that the provision for registering social networks is to curtail freedom of expression.

In reply, Minister of Communication and Information Technology Gokul Baskota said that the company should be registered by the social networking company rather than the user. He said social networks including Facebook, Twitter and others have been registered in countries like India and France. It is important to register in Nepal too. ‘

He said that a huge amount of money was being spent through social media. “Of the total spending on social media, 10 percent of the money is on Facebook’s ‘Boost’,” Minister Baskota says, adding that revenue has to be increased by bringing Facebook Boost to legal ground.

The term of the chairperson and member of the court shall be five years. Congress has said that the formation of information technology court is not relevant and valid.

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