Draft IT rules to curb freedom of speech on social media: Experts

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Surveillance, fake news and social media have once again grabbed headlines. Currently it is at the back of proposed changes to the Intermediary Guidelines 2011 under the Information Technology Act 2000.

The government on December 24 had commenced consultations on a draft Intermediary Guidelines of the IT Rules 2018 to check on the misuse of social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and Google. It had set the timeline of submitting the comments by January 15, which has been now extended till January 28.

“Today’s meeting was part of the consultative process. We have told them what we are doing and why we want to do this. They (Internet societies) shared their views and suggestions and will give more feedbacks in future,” Gopalakrishnan S, Joint Secretary, MeitY told reporters after the meeting.

Gopalakrishnan explained that all the rules were framed as early as 2011 and lot of changes since then. “Social media has been used fantastically. But there are also some people who misuse it and get away with it. To ensure that the laws are maintained and not used for wrong purposes by terrorists or anti-social elements, we need to amend these rules,” he said in a Twitter chat.

“The solution should come technologically from them (technology companies). You have to work on your architecture to help solving the problems. Solving the problems is our interest — but not of Facebook, Twitter or anybody’s interest,” said a senior official at MeitY

We are waiting for more comments and counter comments till January 28 so that we can go further about legalities and forming the guidelines, the official added.

Meanwhile, in another event organised by the Indian Women Press Corps, experts argued that the proposed changes such as using automated tools recommended by the government or intermediary will violate freedom of speech. It will also undermine the Shreya Singal judgement, where the Supreme Court had struck down Section 66A on the issue of online speech and intermediary liability in India.

Raman Jit Singh Chima, an Advocate and Asia Policy director of Access Now, an advocacy organization committed to net neutrality and internet freedom, said that the Indian laws have not been very respectful of internet rights and even with the mass surveillance movement the legal framework has never been fixed.

Apar Gupta from the Internet Freedom Foundation, explained that using automated tools censor speech will violate freedom of speech as it may restrict one from posting anything controversial.

Prabir Purkayastha, Vice President, Free Software Movement of India and Chairperson, Knowledge Commons, agrees. He added that it would be a challenge for journalists. He explained that if social media can be controlled, it would be a question for journalists to guarantee the protection of sources, who are coming forward with their opinions.

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