11 Information Related Legislation: Right to Information Act and Censorship

Sanjeevi Amba

epgp books



I. Objectives

To provide the students with the understanding of


•       What is Right to Information Act (RTI)?

•       Impact of RTI in the Library and Information Centre

•       What is Censorship?

•       Major role of library and information professional to make awareness about RTI and Censorship, etc


II.  Learning Outcome


On completion of this module, you are expected to have an idea of the purpose and meaning of Censorship and Right to Information and what these mean for libraries and information services.


III. Module Structure


1.  Introduction

2.  Impact of RTI in Library and Information Centres

3.  Categories of Information under RTI

4.  suo moto Disclosure

5.  Exempted Information

6.  Censorship

7.  What is Censorship?

8.  Library Ethos vis-a-via Censorship

9.  Forms or Types of Censorship

10.  Responsibility of LISP

11.  Censorship in LICs

12.  Censorship on the Internet

13.  Policy Decisions in the LIC

14.  Summary


1. Introduction


As far as Library and Information Science Professional (LISP) are concerned, “the right to information” can be viewed from two perspectives. The traditional one by which a LISP will have to provide access to the information itself without discrimination while still adhering to the rules and framework of the parent organisation. This is discussed later on when dealing with censorship issues.


The second perspective is a recent one engendered by the “Right to Information Act” (RTI) which became operational on 12th October 2005. The Act mandates timely response to citizen’s requests for government information. This has implications for LISP, especially those in a publicly funded setup. The implications are that the LISP should facilitate access to updated RTI material, organize and maintain records in a manner that ensures speedy retrieval and dissemination of the information sought. It must be understood that information, in the context of this lesson, does not refer to the information found in printed material or the Internet, but data generated by the LIC as part of their administrative and managerial activities.


Maintenance of records has always been an integral part of library operations. The importance and method of doing so have been spelt out in detail in the two books “Library Manual” and “Library Administration” by SR Ranganathan. However, the importance and essentiality of such an activity has been enhanced with the RTI.


It is necessary at first to know and understand the RTI as it is an all-pervasive legislation in which the whole society is interested and involved—it is a form of “participatory governance”. Hence, LISP has to acquire material/facilitate access to RTI information.


The RTI empowers all Indian citizens to seek information from public authorities. These include central, state and local governments, parliament and state legislatures, judiciary, police, security forces and all bodies funded by government—in short, all publicly funded organisations.


2. Impact of RTI in Library and Information Centres


As the provision of information is a statutory requirement which every public authority is bound to meet, it behoves LISP attached to publicly funded organisations to be aware of the ramifications of this Act and to prepare themselves to effectively meet the information demands made vis-à-vis the LICs financial, transactional and administrative activities and policies. Systems should, therefore, be set in place for the purposes of records control and maintenance in LICs. The LISP will have to draw up guidelines regarding the implementation of procedures to meet requests for information under RTI. As every organisation will have a designated Public Information Officer (PIO), the LISP will have to work closely with the PIO in identifying categories of records, formats to be followed, policies for records retention, security etc.


At times, the Officer -in-Charge of the LIC might be the designated PIO. In such cases, he or she must clearly demarcate the responsibilities of the PIO from those of the officer-in-charge. That is, be clear about the information requirements of a LIC patron and those asked for under the RTI. The first (as mentioned earlier) deals with information in the public domain and the latter with data generated in the course of the functioning of the organisation.


The first step in establishing such guidelines would be to spell out a goal statement.The goal statement could probably be as follows:


To provide exact and precise information within the required time frame.


The LISP would next have to decide on the policies regarding records management and control. These would deal with:


•       Software

•       Designated Personnel

•       Security

•       Frequency of updates

•       Backups

•       Retention of records

•       Forms


Let us now examine each of the items listed here:




Since records will have to be maintained both in digital as well as hard copy format, the software to be used will have to be critically examined and decided upon. The software will have to be compatible with the software used by the parent organisation. If the library is part of a group of libraries or a consortium then it will have to be compatible with those used by others so as to ensure easy portability and transfer of data.


Designated Personnel


Among the library staff, a group will have to be identified to be responsible for collecting and updating the data. The level of security among the staff thus identified should be taken into consideration. The categories of data that will be devolved to the staff and the categories of data that will be the province of the Head of the LIC itself will have to be clearly defined.




The level and extent of security will have to be decided upon. Will all data be accessible by all the library staff or will access be restricted to certain library personnel alone. Here, the definition of document control as given in ISO 9001 is useful.


“Document control means that the right persons have the current version of the documents they need while unauthorized persons are prevented from use”.


Frequency of updates


How frequently the data is updated will have to be decided upon. Also, how long it will take to update the information if a request is made. This is important as RTI mandates the time frame within which information must be provided. In fact, the Act states that:


“It is advisable that, as far as possible, the information should be updated as and when any development takes place. Particularly, in case of publication on the Internet, the information should be kept updated all the time”


The Act requires that every public authority has to update its publications under Section 4(1) (b) every year. The Central/State Government/Departments will have to come out with general instructions for time-bound updating of all categories of information, including formats for publication. Every public authority may in turn publish updated information that is specific to its functions following the guidelines”. Hence, the LISP will have to ensure that the library website is kept updated all the time.


It should also be ensured that though a record is amended to reflect new or updated information the original record is not affected.




It must be decided where the backup copy of critical records should be maintained. Should it be on the library server or on a central server or at another location?


Retention of records


How long records should be retained will have to be decided upon. In a library certain records are always retained. For instance, records of holdings in a library which give information not only on current holdings but also on withdrawn items. However, period of retention of other records will be based on the policies of the organization with inputs from the designated PIO. Closely related to this would be policies regarding the archiving of records. The RTI Act specifically mentions Record Retention Schedule. However, it also says:


“[The Act] does not require the public authorities to retain records for indefinite period. The records need to be retained as per the record retention schedule applicable to the concerned public authority.”




Decision would also have to be taken whether to use pre-defined forms for the records or not. Forms will have to be drawn up and periodic revision of the forms will have to be done in the light of feedback received, requirements of the PIO and the type of information sought.


Finally, to establish proper guidelines, the LISP will have to draw up a check list to answer key questions regarding:

•       Categories of records

•       Responsible personnel

•       Location of data storage (current and archival)

•       Access parameters and levels and security

•       Retention time and disposal

•       Effective storage and retrieval systems, etc.


The most important step, in fact an essential step, would be to define and document every decision taken regarding the policies given above. The need to document every decision and paper trails of activities cannot be stressed enough in the context of the RTI Act.


LISP can study ISO 9001 which provides guidelines for records identification, maintenance and control, especially about updating of records as ISO 9001 requires that every document shows when it was created or last updated. The automatic date field built into many software programs may not suitable for using as a date stamp and care should be taken while using this feature.


Guidelines will have to be drawn up for date stamp while revising or updating records. Wikipedia also lists the various steps involved in record management and control and this can be used as a check list while formulating policies and guidelines.


So far, the discussion has cantered around record management and control in general. Let us now look briefly at the categories of information that can be asked for and what are of particular relevance in the LIC setup.


3. Categories of Information under RTI


The Act defines “information” as any material in any form. It includes:


•       Records

•       Documents

•       Memos

•       E-mails

•       Opinions

•       Advices

•       Press releases

•       Circulars

•       Orders

•       Logbooks

•       Contracts

•       Reports

•       Papers

•       Samples

•       Models

•       Data material held in any electronic form


It also includes “information relating to any private body which can be accessed by the public authority under any law for the time being in force”. This right includes inspection of work, documents and records; taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records; and taking certified samples of material held by the public authority or held under the control of the public authority.


Section 4(1) (b) of the Act, in particular, requires every public authority to publish following sixteen categories of information:

  1. The particulars of its organisation, functions and duties;
  2. The powers and duties of its officers and employees;
  3. The procedure followed in the decision making process, including channels of supervision and accountability;
  4. The norms set by it for the discharge of its functions;
  5. The rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records, held by it or under its control or used by its employees for discharging its functions;
  6. A statement of the categories of documents that are held by it or under its control;
  7. The particulars of any arrangement that exists for consultation with, or representation by, the members of the public in relation to the formulation of its policy or implementation thereof;
  8. A statement of the boards, councils, committees and other bodies consisting of two or more persons constituted as its part or for the purpose of its advice, and as to whether meetings of those boards, councils, committees and other bodies are open to the public, or the minutes of such meetings are accessible for public;
  9. A directory of its officers and employees;
  10. The monthly remuneration received by each of its officers and employees, including the system of compensation as provided in its regulations;
  11. The budget allocated to each of its agency, indicating the particulars of all plans, proposed expenditures and reports on disbursements made;
  12. The manner of execution of subsidy programmes, including the amounts allocated and the details of beneficiaries of such programmes;
  13. The particulars of recipients of concessions, permits or authorisations granted by it;
  14. Details in respect of the information, available to or held by it, reduced in an electronic form;
  15. The particulars of facilities available to citizens for obtaining information, including the working hours of a library or reading room, if maintained for public use;
  16. The names, designations and other particulars of the Public Information Officers.


Besides the categories of information enumerated above, the Government may prescribe other categories of information to be published by any public authority.


To fulfil these and other requirements, the following suggestions may be employed:Regarding categories i, ii and iii, the LISP may maintain an organisational chart identifying personnel and delineating responsibilities and functions and flowcharts of activities.


Regarding categories iv and v and xv, standards and procedures may be set in place and these must be documented. Most libraries have over the years developed their own library manual which sets out policies and procedures. These have to be augmented or modified if necessary. If a library manual does not exist it is essential to create one. The rules and regulations would cover not only internal processes but services and facilities extended to users such as membership criteria, hours open, loan restrictions, photocopying facility, browsing facility and use of the Internet, interlibrary loans, access to e-journals, downloading restrictions etc.


Regarding categories vi, xiv and xv, the LIC website and its OPAC/WebOPAC would take care of this.


Regarding categories vii and viii, these could in the LIC context even be considered to be Library Committee members and LIC Committee Meetings where policies and procedures are decided upon regarding selection and purchase of materials, membership of consortia, copyright agreements regarding journals, photocopying etc., agreements signed with publisher regarding e-journal access, e-books use and download agreements, etc.


Regarding category xi, information on budget allocation should be maintained not only for library materials – documents, non- book materials, e-information resources – but also for equipment, furniture, supplies, official travel, etc. The amount spent on each item of expenditure and the rationale, approval and sanction behind such expenditure should be meticulously documented.


In addition, many libraries also generate income – through membership and access fees, supply of photocopies, consultancy fees, supply of information product’s etc. Exact records should be maintained regarding these.


In-service training is an integral activity of any organisation and is important in the LIC milieu with the rapid advances in communications and information technology as it is imperative for LISP to meet changes and challenges in information access and requirements. Records should be maintained in this area also.


Records relating to attendance at conferences and papers presented and published in journals should also be maintained and updated.


The above shows that a two tier record maintenance and control system will have to be in place in a LIC. The first tier would be the files, notes, log books, minutes of meetings, reports etc. which the LIC is concerned with in its day-to-day activities. These have to be maintained meticulously and in a manner which is easily retrievable and understandable. The second tier would be records at a higher level, culled from the activities at the first tier. For instance, book selection policies and procedures, vendor selection and purchase data of documents would be at the first tier. The second tier might be records which show the amount spent on various subject categories, the percent of budget spent on these categories, the average cost of items in each of these categories etc. Similarly, broad usage statistics would be at the first tier but breakup by categories of users such as students, industrialists, academics etc will be at the second tier.


4. suo moto Disclosure


suo moto is a legal term meaning “on its own motion”. It is used when a government agency acts on its own cognizance, that is, an action is taken without prompting from another party. The Act mentions suo moto disclosure of information to the public through the Internet among other communication media. LISP have been for many years now following this by making available on their library website information about the library activities, timings, facilities available and rules and guidelines for the use of the library and its services, staff and contact information and through its WebOPAC, data about holdings, recent acquisitions, access to online resources etc. The LISP, in consultation with the designated PIO, may now have to give on its web site additional information which the organisation considers necessary to comply with the RTI Act requirements.


5. Exempted Information


So far, the discussion has centred around the need to set up procedures and systems so as to facilitate the provision of information whenever asked for. However, the LISP should also be aware that there are exemptions and that certain categories of information cannot be provided. This includes information which is harmful to the sovereignty and integrity of the nation, that which has been forbidden to be published by a court, information on trade secrets or intellectual property to name but a few. The LISP should take care to know the categories of information that cannot be provided under the RTI.


6. Censorship


Censorship has always been an oft-debated and troubled issue as far as LICs are concerned. Before discussing the various issues involved in censorship of materials in LICs and the issues thrown up in the digital age, it is necessary to understand what censorship is and its history.


7. What is Censorship?


The American Library Association (ALA) defines “Censorship as the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons—individuals, groups or government officials—find objectionable or dangerous.” Though generally thought of in the context of government, as can be seen from the definition of the ALA, other groups can also be involved in censoring of materials. Censorship is used to prevent and control the creation, access and dissemination of ideas.


Censorship can be applied to the following:


•       books and other print materials

•       speech

•       photographs

•       films

•       TV

•       radio programmes

•       digital materials

•       the Internet


These can all be censored for any number of reasons:


•       Political

•       Social

•       Religious

•       Racist

•       Moral

•       Security concerns

•       Age related (content may be inappropriate for certain age groups)

•       Even the usage of inappropriate/inflammatory/indecent language


The history of censorship goes back a long time and history shows that it was practiced in ancient civilizations also. Though it is usually associated with dictatorship as a means of retaining power so that new/revolutionary/seditious ideas do not percolate among people, censorship has also been widely practiced by:


•       Religious groups to prevent heresy and blasphemy and other religious ideas from taking hold

•       Moralists who are worried about licentious or pornographic literature

•       Racists to sustain existing social inequities and maintain social status quo

•       Governments in the interests of security, etc.


The need for censorship may vary but it can be said that the rationale is the same: to suppress ideas/expressions under the guise of basically protecting major institutions such as the state, religious organisations and their practices, society and the family.


8. Library Ethos vis-a-via Censorship


Censorship and librarians have had a troubled relationship. Censorship goes against what is the fundamental ethos of librarianship i.e. to make information accessible to all without discrimination. The very philosophy of librarianship is against the very concept of censorship. Let us first look at what The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) have to say:


“IFLA supports, defends and promotes intellectual freedom as defined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights”


IFLA asserts that a commitment to intellectual freedom is a core responsibility for the library and information profession.


IFLA therefore calls upon libraries and library staff to adhere to the principles of intellectual freedom, uninhibited access to information and freedom of expression and to recognize the privacy of the library user.


From this statement it is clear that IFLA considers “the freedom of expression” and “the right to know” as two aspects of the same principle. To this end, LICs should take steps to acquire materials that reflect the plurality and diversity of society. LISP is:

  1. exhorted to be governed by “professional considerations and not by political, moral and religious views”.
  2. to adhere to the principles of intellectual freedom.
  3. to recognize the privacy of the user.

Within IFLA, there is the Committee on Freedom of Access to Information andFreedom of Expression (FAIFE). its mission statement is given below:


“The overall objective of IFLA/FAIFE is to raise awareness of the essential correlation between the library concept and the values of intellectual freedom. To reach this goal IFLA/FAIFE collects and disseminates documentation and aims to stimulate a dialog both within and outside the library world”.


India, having been associated with IFLA from the beginning, it is essential that LISP are aware of IFLA recommendations and guidelines.


The most proactive in the area of censorship is the American Library Association (ALA) which set up the Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) in 1967 to implement its policies as embodied in the Library Bill of Rights (First adopted in and after subsequent amendments reaffirmed on January 23, 1996). The OIF has set up many groups and initiatives to educate LISP and the public and also to deal with issues relating to censorship.


The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) in UK has issued its own statement (2005) on intellectual freedom and censorship in which it states that the organisation is committed“to promoting a society where intellectual activity and creativity, freedom of expression and debate, and access to information are encouraged and nurtured”.


The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), founded in 1974, states that its mission is“to promote freedom of thought, inquiry and expression and oppose censorship in all its forms”


An alliance of 50 American non-profit organizations, it consists of literary, artistic, religious, educational, professional, labour, and civil liberties groups. (http://ncac.org)


9. Forms or Types of Censorship


There are two forms of direct censorship that will be discussed here: regulative and constitutive censorship. Both forms of censorship can be applied to LICs, and LISP should be aware of what these forms are and the methods by which they are enforced.


Regulative Censorship


Regulative censorship is when a regulatory organization, usually the government, dictates what information can be made available in the public domain, such as when material or access to material (including web access) is banned by law. The government may do so in the interests of national security: to prevent insurgency, to prevent a law and order situation, to prevent disharmony, etc. It is not just the central government which exercises the right to ban books; state governments have also done so over the years. Internet filtering is also practiced by the Government in India and there have been instances of banning of web sites. This is discussed in a later section.


There are many examples of censorship in India throughout history. For instance, many vernacular newspapers were banned in British India as well as several books such as Katherine Mayo’s Face of Mother India. A more recent example is Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, among others. The responsibility of LISP will be to keep abreast of such developments during collection development and in facilitating use of the LIC.


Constitutive Censorship


Constitutive censorship is a type of censorship that a group imposes through disapproval, isolation and even banishment from the community. This is where information, thoughts and ideas that violate social norms and values are suppressed though a variety of sociological processes. A recent example of constitutive censorship is the decision made by Penguin Books India, publishers of Dr. Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History, to recall and destroy all copies of the book bowing to a pressure from a social/religious group. This has been widely discussed in newspapers such as ‘The Hindu’, ‘The Times of India’ among others from February 11, 2014.


Another sociological process is self-censorship, which is defined by Cambridge Dictionaries Online as:“Control of what you say or do in order to avoid annoying or offending others, but without being told officially that such control is necessary”


Libricide or Biblioclasm is the practice of destroying books or other materials which offend or are not in synch with the ideas, ethos or beliefs of a particular group or which are thought of as being subversive to the ideologies of a particular group. It is generally done in public. History abounds with cases of book burning and destroying of library materials. Wikipedia lists the incidents.



There have been many cases of libricide and vandalism in India. The burning of the collection of Nalanda University in the 12th century is well known in history. A couple of recent incidents are also given as illustration. In 2004, the Pune Bhandarkar oriental research institute (Bori) was ransacked by a mob objecting to a history book on Shivaji. Recently, the publisher of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History decided to remove the title from bookshelves in India and pulp them.


Not just books, any form of expression can also be censored or prevented from being made public by interested groups. The recent controversy regarding the screening of the film “PK” illustrates this.


In the LIC setup, the LISP take the initiative in censoring materials acquired or in preventing access to certain information. Studies and experience show that many LISP self-censor to some extent. Why do they practice self-censorship? They do so to avoid trouble or controversy; to avoid offending the regular users; to keep up with “community standards”; to protect themselves against potential threats; to avoid probable lawsuits or strictures from higher authorities or even sub-consciously because of ingrained moral values. They may do this during collection management – both in acquisition of materials as well as in the way/and where they arrange them. For instance, materials may be kept at a spot which is not easily accessible to the users. Another possibility is “Censorship through consensus”. Here adherence to shared social values by members of the society of which the LISP is a part may give rise to self-censorship.


Only a very thin line separates censorship and selection of materials and LISP must be able to discern it. The New York Library Association has developed a self-censorship check list to enable LISP to find out whether they are practicing self-censorship or not. Among other questions, the list asks LISP to check:


•      If they have avoided purchasing materials because parents might not approve.

•      If they have avoided purchasing materials because the authors’ background or views are not acceptable.

•      Whether they have labeled materials in such a way as to create a prejudice in the minds of the users or;

•      If they have removed materials because of pressure groups.

•      If they have violated the right to privacy of users or allowed unauthorised access to the library records of the users.


10.  Responsibility of LISP


The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) in its Statement on free access to information asserts that Freedom can be protected in a democratic society only if its citizens have unrestricted access to information and ideas. (http://www.alia.org.au) From this statement it is clear that the role of LISP is a crucial one when maintaining a democracy. The ALIA also lists specific responsibilities for librarians to uphold in the context of unrestricted freedom of access. These are:

  • Access without discrimination
  • Inclusive approach in building library collection and ensuring information is available from a variety of sources. Collection building also should not have any bias and should not be influenced by different beliefs and ideas.
  • Maintenance of the confidentiality of users
  • Resistance to vested interests of users of the libraries
  • Work closely with the government in the context of legislation relating to censorship.


11.  Censorship in LICs


Moody explores certain common library practices which give rise to what she terms as “covert censorship”. These are:


Vendor bias


LISP generally rely on review journals in book selection process. These journals may be biased in favour of large publishing houses which are given more space and maybe little or no mention of alternative or independent publishers. This in turn influences selection process. To overcome this, LISP will have to regularly scan a variety of sources in addition to publisher catalogues and the Internet to identify relevant items.


Citation rates for periodical selection


Use of citation rates alone does not indicate the relevance of the title for the user especially in academic or special libraries and information centres. Such LICs might require titles which are not very visible but may contain information of interest.


Pressure from funding bodies


This is a difficult issue as LISP rely on funding agencies for survival.




This has been discussed above.


Omission of “alternative literature”


Most of such literature, which is either self- published or published by small publishers, deals with concepts and ideas which is not part of the main stream or which are radical. These also need to find representation in the LIC.


Cataloguing bias and labeling


The extent of cataloguing and the subject representation might be such that it effectively masks the real content of the material. Labeling might be done by LISP to indicate either age related material or content related. For instance, if it felt that the content might be distressing for some groups such labeling may be done. When and whether labeling is done is a question that has to be answered by LISP.


Censorship is not only practiced through the exclusion of certain materials, but may also take place after the material has been acquired by the LIC. Users of the LIC may take objection to what is available in the library and want it to be removed. They may pressurize the LISP to take suitable action and not make it available to users. This places the LISP in a dilemma; they may not want to antagonize a section of the users or members of a library committee, but at the same time they have to provide access to others who may want such material to be kept. Sometimes, the objection may also take a violent turn. An example of this is the vandalisation of Bandarkar Library, Pune in 2004. However, the ethos of LISP is that LICs, especially those serving the general public, have to cater to every need and every user despite objections by groups. As Coyle states:


“Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval”


This leads to another argument – what is thought of as unsuitable for whatever reason at present may not be thought so in the future. If the LIC does not acquire such material now then they will not be available when it is needed or sought for at a later point of time when social, moral or political ideas and attitudes change. For students of political history, it is necessary to study and critically examine various view points and the banning of books prevents them from doing so. For example, the classic “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was banned for some time in Southern USA during the civil war. What is obscene or pornography is difficult to define as attitudes to morality change over time. Both “Lord Chatterley’s Lover” and “Madame Bovary” were considered obscene and banned for some time before later ideas regarding the publications changed.


It is not just fiction, political or socio- economic literature, science writings have also been challenged over time. The most famous case of scientific suppression remains that of Galileo in Italy: in 1633 he was forced to disavow his finding that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Another instance was when Darwin’s books on evolution were banned by religious groups in the USA. A cursory perusal of the Web with the search term science censorship shows that even in recent times, censorship of science is being practiced. (For example, the article “Do not censor science in the name of bio security” in Nature, Volume: 486, Pages: 295 Date published: (21 June 2012) DOI: doi: 10.1038/486295a.) Though the above primarily deal with communication of scientific information, LISP of academic or special libraries must be aware of the problem, and if material is not statutorily banned they should take steps to acquiresuch material or facilitate access as communication and access are the essence of scientific endeavour.


Literature also abounds with questions of whether children should be permitted to access adult literature or whether LISP should take steps to restrict such access. Most of the questions regarding censorship are raised by American LISP who relate censorship to intellectual freedom as granted in the Library Bill of Rights and the First Amendment of the US Constitution. The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was signed into law on December 21, 2000 in the USA. Under CIPA, schools or libraries receiving discounts or federal funds must certify that it is enforcing a policy of Internet safety that includes the use of filtering or blocking technology. The protection measures must address the following:


a.       access by minors to inappropriate matter on the Internet

b.      the safety and security of minors when using electronic mail, chat rooms, and other forms of direct electronic communications

c.       unauthorized access, including so-called “hacking,” and other unlawful activities by minors online

d.      unauthorized disclosure, use, and dissemination of personal information regarding minors

e.       measures restricting minors’ access to materials harmful to them


12. Censorship on the Internet


The wide spread use of the Internet for information and provision of browsing facilities in LICs has given rise to newer censorship issues and discussions on the concomitant actions taken. Internet censorship can be done at several levels just as for printed and other non-book materials – at the national/state level by the government when sites are blocked and thus denying access. In India, Internet censorship is being practiced by both central and state governments by blocking access/removing content that is obscene or otherwise objectionable, or that which endangers public order or national security. Censorship can also be done at the organisational level and at the level of the LIC itself.


This lesson will discuss the last scenario alone as LISP are closely involved with this. However, before doing so, let us first look at certain concepts/terminology and developments in this area of discourse. Content- control software, content filtering or blocking software are terms describing software designed to restrict or control the content a user is authorised to access on the Internet. Filters are of many types and can be implemented in many ways. There are

•       Browser-based filters

•       Software on proxy servers or firewalls (both software and hardware)

•       Client-side filters which can be installed on individual computers

•       Content-filter done by ISPs

•       Filters at the network level depending on the policies of the institution etc.


Many search engines also offer the option of turning on a safety filter whereby inappropriate links can be filtered out of the search results so the filtering is done by the search engine itself and not at the organisational level. However, this applies to results of the search alone as access is possible directly if the URL itself is known.


While filtering, care must be taken about over-blocking or under-blocking. Over-blocking occurs when content that is not meant to be censored is filtered out. This can result in over-blocking, or over-censoring. This might be because of what is termed as Scunthorpe problem which occurs when a filter or search engine blocks e-mails, forum posts or search results because their text contains a string of letters that form part of an obscene word. Under- blocking occurs whenever new information is uploaded to the Internet and filters are not updated quickly or accurately. Material meant to be censored then pass through the filter.


Recently, Google and Microsoft had announced efforts to fight child pornography by re-programming their search engines, so that about 100,000 potential terms will not be able to yield any search results related to child pornography.


Hence, it can be seen that the widespread use of the Web in both the in-house areas as well as the public areas of the library calls for a great deal of thought regarding information access. Libraries will have to develop policies regarding access and use of the Internet. These policies will have to be drawn up as a group activity in consultation with the LIC authorities, members of the Library Board, Patrons and the Network and Systems Administrator.


Apart from government mandated censorship, self-censorship as mentioned earlier comes into play in the context of Internet access also. This relates to the extent and type of filtering to be used.


13. Policy Decisions in the LIC


There are many questions to consider when deciding on the extent of filtering required. In a LIC which is used by both adults and children, would separate terminals have to be set up for the different category of users based on age so that selective filtering can be done? Else, could libraries be kept open for longer hours for adults alone? Sites might be blocked during common usage time and opened up during adult hours. Sometimes, policy decisions regarding access may be taken especially if funds and space permit only a limited number of terminals. Under such circumstances, conditional access may be permitted based on usage statistics. For instance, in academic libraries access to sites exclusively for entertainment might be restricted during high usage hours of the LIC so that the terminals may be used for accessing academic or educational material only during that time. This is a case of partial censorship. Sometimes, certain content alone may be blocked but not the access to the site itself. Some libraries use Internet filters on computers used by children only. Some libraries may employ content-control software which can be deactivated on a case-by-case basis depending on the application. If the LIC were a part of a LIC system then a decision would have to be taken whether to filter the whole system or apply the filter only to particular units depending on age or other criteria.


The responsibility of selecting appropriate filtering software devolves upon the LISP. This would depend on the extent of filtering required. The LISP would not only have to keep abreast of the various filtering software available but should be capable of critically assessing their capability to perform the expected functions. Further, they should have in place a mechanism for monitoring the effectiveness of the filters to avoid over-blocking and also for updating the filters so that under-blocking does not occur.


In this context, it would be interesting to know about “404 Day: A day of action against censorship in libraries”. On April 4th 2014 the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) along with the MIT Center for Civic Media and the National Coalition against Censorship organised a digital teach-for library personnel to understand and learn more about the use and applications of Internet filters in libraries. (https://www.eff.org/…/404-day- day-action-against-censorship-libraries) The EFF, founded in 1990, is a non-profit organisation which champions user privacy and free expression (www.eff.org)

  1. Summary


This module has looked at two closely related issues, viz., Right to Information and Censorship. The module does not deal with the philosophy of censorship or the justification or otherwise for doing so. Whether or not to fight censorship depends on many factors and on the situation at the time. LISP will have to use their judgment on a case to case basis and will have to prevail upon professional bodies and associations to address these issues. The responsibilities and duties of the LISP in the context of the RTI have been enumerated briefly. The essentiality of records identification, maintenance and control has been stressed especially as provision of information sought is a statutory requirement. In this context, it would be helpful to bear in mind clause 4.2.4 of ISO 9001 which states that it is necessary to establish a documented procedure to define the controls needed for the identification, storage, protection, retrieval and retention and stresses the need for records to be legible, readily identifiable and retrievable.

you can view video on Information Related Legislation: Right to Information Act and Censorship