Policing The Net, Privately
Policing The Net, Privately
India’s proposed rules to curb toxic content on the Net will undermine digital freedom and right to privacy
Latha Jishnu

Almost everyone concerned with keeping the digital landscape free and secure has written to the Indian government. Watchdogs of Internet freedom, security experts, encryption specialists, academics and even human rights organizations have all been petitioning Ravi Shankar Prasad, who heads the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), against the Information Technology [Intermediary Guidelines (Amendment) Rules] 2018. The changes envisaged are far-reaching, making the intermediaries (service providers) accountable for the content on their platforms and no longer eligible for safe harbour protection (see ‘Amendments are lethal to free speech’, p42).

The amended guidelines define intermediaries as any service that has more than five million users in India. Such companies will have to take down questionable content within 24 hours and ensure the traceability of messages. User data will have to be provided within 72 hours of a government request. Intermediaries would also have to mandatorily upload filters to proactively weed out unlawful or noxious content. Besides, they would have to preserve their records for at least 180 days to aid government investigators.

Champions of free Internet and rights organizations worry that the amendments would facilitate unchecked surveillance and seriously undermine the right to privacy. A global coalition of civil society organizations and security experts has warned Prasad that the change will undermine the fundamental right to privacy of users without addressing the problems that the ministry seeks to resolve. “These not only violate Indian constitutional standards regarding fundamental rights and international human rights law, but also chill free expression and access to information,” the coalition said.

GOVERNMENT BRAKES ON FRIVOLOUS CONTENT

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March 01, 2020