Clarifying its stand on intermediaries, MeITY on Friday clarified that there was “no attempt to get into censorship”. Joint secretary Gopalkrishna S said: “There is no attempt to get into censorship. Even intermediary themselves will not be keen to become censors.” He was speaking during a panel discussion organised by the Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC) in Delhi around the issue of ‘Misinformation and Intermediary Liability’.
He said the idea with the new “Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules 2018” was not to implement these rules at the cost of encryption or privacy.
“We have to strike a balance. I believe the solution has to come from tech companies,” he pointed adding that the problems of misinformation, fake news, online trolling are not just being discussed in India, but have become a concern of every other country. The MeITY joint secretary stressed that the idea was to look at accountability.
The new rules call for intermediaries to deploy “technology based automated tools or appropriate mechanisms,” to actively monitor content and this has raised censorship concerns.
The rules also include provisions for traceability of messages if required by an authority, which raises questions over the future of end-to-end encrypted products like WhatsApp in the country.
At the event, SFLC launched its report on the issue, titled,’Intermediary Liability 2.0: A Shifting Paradigm’. Other panelists cited a need for more nuance when it came to the law on the issue.
“We are aware of the dangers of these platforms if there are not controlled. But how do you moderate content. The current level of technology, even using AI does not allow automated removal,” S Chandrasekhar, Director, Government Affairs, Microsoft India said, adding that a simplistic law would not solve the problems at hand.
Faiza Rahman, Legal Consultant for Tech Policy at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, echoed a similar sentiment, saying the current draft rules overstep the mandate of law of IT ACT.
“Onerous obligations are being placed on intermediaries. Rather a calibrated regulation is what is needed. These guidelines do not differentiate between the different kind of intermediaries,” she said. She also pointed out that the issue of capacity constraint will hold true for many players when it comes to regulating content.
The panel also saw the participation of Siddharth Jain, ACP of Gandhi Nagar, who was earlier ACP of CyberCell Crime branch. Jain highlighted some of the challenges that law enforcement agencies face when dealing with cybercrime and seeking information from these intermediary players.
“Draft guidelines give clear picture on what kind of assistance is expected from the companies. We are facing a challenge. We are not given login-logout details, sometimes we want content of message, we are not getting it because they are citing privacy laws. I feel in cases of life and death, these privacy issues have to kept aside. These guidelines are much needed,” Jain said.
He also said that while Facebook and Google have done better in terms of helping authorities, other intermediaries are not so helpful, adding there are several issues when intermediaries are not based in India or if the user whose data is requested is not in India.
The question over the use of automated tools was also discussed. “These (automated) tools have to be intelligible to human actors. Algorithmic tools and the decisions taken by them should be critiqued by human actors,” Amber Sinha, Senior Programme Manager at the Centre for Internet and Society said.
“Content cannot be removed on the basis of subjective judgement,” he added.
The issue of educating users in India was also brought up during the course of the discussion.
Amrita Choudhury, President and Director of CCAOI, said that new users will have to be more vigil to the problem. “To give an example of the lynchings those who forwarded the video thought they were doing a social good. Education of users is needed,” she said.
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