Thursday, February 16, 2006 (New Delhi):
Thirty-two-year-old Omar Siddique has landed himself in jail for replying to an email apparently coming from Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
The Gujarat government insists that the mail wasn’t spam and that Siddique was a subscriber to a service provided by the government.
The email, dated December 4, 2005, invited people to visit Gujarat for the Navratri festival and urged them to spread the message about the festival.
It was blacklisted in the same month as spam by the international anti-spam organisation Spamhaus. The email is signed Narendra Modi, though it does not have his digital signatures.
Spamhaus, a London-based reputed organisation told NDTV that the particular email sent from [email protected] is spam, because it was sent out as unsolicited bulk email.
Internet ethics, they say, dictate that people do not send bulk mail without permission.
The website has listed details of the mail to help email providers all over the world block it for their users.
But the very same email address [email protected] is also used by the Gujarat government to send out emails.
The address has been in use for at least four years.
Officials managing the emails have told NDTV that the emails marketing Gujarat’s kite and Navratri festival were not sent out as spam but only to those who had subscribed to the list.
But the email on the kite festival was received by an Internet user unsolicited in 2003.
And last month, when Delhi-based Omar Siddique replied to such an email, his reply reached the Chief Minister’s office.
The Gujarat government insists Omar got the email after subscribing to it. But NDTV has learnt from Omar’s family and friends that he got it unsolicited.
Omar was arrested by the Gujarat police and taken to Ahmedabad on grounds of using abusive and threatening language and then let off.
Debate on spam
Spamming is a civil offence in the West but in India, it is punishable only if the emails pose a visible threat.
"Spamming is difficult to prove as an offence if the mail is not causing you harm, so we need to evolve a consensus that spamming is unacceptable," said Gulshan Rai, Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), Department of Information Technology.
The question the government needs to focus on now is who was sending out spam in the name of the government.
It is also about the rights of Internet users because spamming is not yet an offence but responding to an unwanted email becomes a criminal offence.