The Ministry of Electronics & IT (MeitY) has kicked off the public consultations on a draft Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules 2018 which will replace the rules notified under the same law in 2011. The proposed rules are aimed at increasing traceability of social media activity in a bid to curb the spread of fake news.
Opening the debate on public forums, the government asserted that instances of misuse of social media by criminals and anti-national elements have brought new challenges to the law enforcement agencies.
Social networks such as Facebook, Whats App and Twitter must ensure that their platforms are not used to commit and provoke terrorism, extremism, violence and crime, MeitY said in a press release.
However the proposed regulatory framework around social media has spurred protests from privacy advocates and opposition parties as another step to turn India into a surveillance state.
The news comes days after the government expanded its surveillance powers. On December 20 the Ministry of Home Affairs authorized 10 government agencies including intelligence and tax watchdogs, to intercept and monitor any digital information.
What Are The New Provisions?
For much of this year the government and social media companies have struggled to find a mechanism to trace and block misleading messages without infringing on the privacy of Indian citizens.
While companies such as WhatsApp have insisted that it will not be possible to break its end-to-end encryption without compromising a user’s privacy, government’s proposed amendments to rules under Section 79 of the IT Act reportedly make it mandatory for online platforms to “proactively” deploy technology to enable access to content seen as “unlawful.” And that the measures include breaking encryption so that the origin of messages can be traced.
The draft amendments will require companies to not only trace and report the origin of messages within 72 hours of receiving a complaint from law enforcement agencies but may also have to “disable access” within a day to content deemed defamatory or against national security and other clauses under Article 19 (2) of the Indian Constitution.
The social media platforms will also be required to have a registered entity in India under the Companies Act, appoint a nodal officer in the country to deal with law enforcement agencies and send communication to users once a month about their privacy policies.
The Ministry said in a statement that the “consultation process is underway”, which started with inter-ministerial consultations, followed by discussions with major social media platforms such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo and WhatsApp, and associations representing intermediaries.
It said the government “intends to consult all stakeholders” and that MeitY “has commenced public consultation” for which submissions must be sent by January 15, 2019.
In July, the minister for Electronics and Information Technology, Ravi Shankar Prasad, said the Centre has no plans to regulate the content appearing on social network platforms. But he reminded such platforms that they will have to abide by the law of the land. And be held accountable for “spreading rumours and fake news leading to rising incidents of violence and lynching in the country.”