The Union Ministry for Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) announced Monday that it will hold public consultations on the draft Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules 2018, which are meant to replace the rules notified in 2011.
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 like 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.
The Indian Express had reported Monday that the government’s proposed amendments to rules under Section 79 of the IT Act make it mandatory for online platforms to “proactively” deploy technology to enable access to content seen as “unlawful”. And that the measures proposed include breaking end-to-end encryption so that the origin of messages can be traced.
In its statement, MeitY said “instances of misuse of social media by criminals and anti-national elements have brought new challenges” for law enforcement agencies, including “inducement for recruitment of terrorists, circulation of obscene content, spread of disharmony, incitement of violence, public order, fake news, etc”. It also referred to incidents of lynchings reported in 2018 “mostly alleged to be because of fake news/ rumours being circulated through WhatsApp and other social media sites”.
The social media platforms, it said, “are required to follow due diligence” under Section 79 of the IT Act. They have to “ensure that their platforms are not used to commit and provoke terrorism, extremism, violence and crime”.
Section 79, it said, “elaborates on the exemption from liabilities of intermediaries in certain cases”, including that the “intermediaries must observe due diligence while discharging their duties, and also observe such other guidelines as prescribed” by the government.
The government, it clarified, “is committed to freedom of speech and expression and privacy of its citizens as enshrined in the Constitution” and “does not regulate content appearing on social network platform”.
However, the main Opposition Congress claimed Monday that the government has become a “Peeping Tom” and that “violating the privacy of people has become the norm”.
Addressing a press conference, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi alleged that the government and “large online platforms are privately discussing how to censor and break encryption of private data, social media, emails, messages and calls”.
Singhvi said that the 2011 rules, drafted by the previous Congress-led UPA government, “provide immunity for online platforms, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for the content which is transmitted and published by end users” allowing the “conduits of information to facilitate a core function of free expression…”
With the latest draft rules, he alleged, the government will legally end this immunity, “which may lead to gross misuse of data by them, especially for political purposes”.