Following on the heels of the Paul Boutin piece in Slate (blogged here) comes a BBC News report that "Bombay [for some reason, the BBC style manual hasn't switched from "Bombay" to "Mumbai" yet] plans cyber cafe controls." The Maharashtra state legislature is considering legislation requiring cafes to be licensed, to install anti-porn software, and to require users to "fill out lengthy forms listing addresses, telephone numbers and other details."
Not surprisingly, cafe owners are up in arms. Not only do they fear it would drive away customers, but if it passed, "cyber cafe owners would need permission from no fewer than 13 separate government agencies in order to set up shop and do business." (This kind of multi-level bureaucractic navigation, according to Peruvian economist Hernando De Soto (profiled here, interviewed here), forces many businesses underground.) Finally, the efforts marks another attempt to reduce the anonymity– and privacy– of Internet use:
[Cyber cafe owners] say it is important to prevent increasingly internet-savvy India from going down the China route of regulation and control.
If passed, the new law would come just weeks after Cuba controversially tightened its grip over internet access by making it impossible for many Cubans to dial up the internet from their home telephone lines.
Bombay's plans could set a precedent for other Indian cities, such as Calcutta and Delhi.
Interestingly, patrons quoted in the article were more sanguine about the idea of giving the names and contact information– a reaction that jibes with Boutin's argument. As one visitor put it, "There's nothing wrong with giving your name and address. It's like going to a residential complex in Bombay, where a watchman is standing guard. You have to write your name and address before you enter the building. Why can't we do the same when we visit a cyber cafe?"