India's cyber cafes log customers' details

/ Source: The Associated Press

Hundreds of Internet cafes in India's technology hub of Bangalore have started to record personal details of their visitors to comply with a new rule aimed at tracking perpetrators of online fraud, virus attacks and terrorism.

Internet users expressed concern that the law would lead to invasion of privacy and police harassment, while cafe owners feared a drop in customers.

The Karnataka state government, where Bangalore is the capital, passed the law last year requiring Internet cafe patrons to provide proof of identity and details such as name, age and address before using the Internet.  However, police only began enforcing it this week.

"This is going to drive us out of business," said G. Satish, co-owner of Internet cafe Cyberia.  "People ask why they must part with personal details just to send an e-mail?" he said.  "Many have walked out of my shop after being asked to register themselves.  This is not working."

Bangalore is home to about 1,000 of India's 11,000 Internet cafes, and the city worries that terrorists and criminals could use the Web to commit crimes such as online credit card fraud or using e-mail to plan a crime, a terrorist attack or send obscene messages.

But cyber crime lawyer Pavan Duggal said personal details could be misused or sold to telemarketers.  "National security and individual privacy must be kept in balance," he said.  "Cyber cafes are only a medium.  Don't punish the pipeline because you are getting dirty water."

He said the government was unfairly penalizing Internet shops.  "Cyber cafes have been singled out for monitoring, while post offices and public call offices, also frequented by criminals, have been left out," he said.

But B. N. Srikanth, who runs a Dishnet Hub Internet cafe, said people already share personal details with phone companies and banks and should have no problem doing the same with cyber cafes.  "You should have no fear if you are not a criminal," he said.