Global social media and technology giants are gearing up to scrap comprehensive new rules intended by the Indian government that would necessitate them to vigorously control happy in one of the world’s biggest Internet markets, sources close to the matter told Reuters.
The rules, planned by the Information Technology ministry on Christmas Eve, would induce platforms such as Facebook, its messaging service WhatsApp, and Twitter to take away illegal content, such as anything that affected the “sovereignty and integrity of India”. This had to be done within 24 hours, the rules proposed.
The suggestion, which wedged many holidaying industry executives off the protector, is open for public comment until Jan 31. It will then be adopted as law, with or without changes. The move comes ahead of India’s national election due by May and amid rising worries that activists could misuse social media, especially the WhatsApp messaging service, to spread fake news and sway voters.
Industry executives and civil rights activist say the rules smack of suppression and could be used by the government of Prime Minister to augment observation and crackdown on disagreeing. Social media firms have long battled efforts by governments approximately the world to hold them answerable for what users post on their platforms.
US and India entrance groups, on behalf of Facebook and other companies, have sought lawful opinions from law firms on the crash of the central proposal, and have in progress working on drafting objections to be filed with the IT ministry, four sources in the sector said.
“The companies can’t take this lying down. We are all worried, it’s primary to how these platforms are governed,” said a managerial at a global social media company.
An estimated half a billion people in India have admission to the Internet. Facebook has about 300 million users in the nation and WhatsApp has more than 200 million. Tens of millions of Indians use Twitter. The new rules, the sources said, would put the privacy of users at risk and raise costs by requiring burdensome round-the-clock monitoring of online content. Internet firm Mozilla Corp said last week the suggestion was a “blunt and inconsistent” solution to the problem of harmful content online, and one which could lead to over-censorship and “chill free expression”.
The IT ministry has said the suggestion was aimed at only making social media safer. “This is not an effort to restrain freedom of speech, or (impose) suppression,” Gopalakrishnan S, a joint secretary at India’s IT ministry said on Saturday when the ministry ran a #SaferSocialMedia movement on Twitter. Facebook and WhatsApp declined to comment. A Twitter spokesperson said the company continues to engage with the IT Ministry and civil society on the planned rules.
“This will be like a blade execution on technology companies,” said Nikhil Narendran, a partner specializing in technology law at Indian law firm Trilegal.
Such regulations are not unique to India. Vietnam has asked tech companies to open local offices and store data nationally, while Australia’s parliament has passed a bill to force companies to give police access to encrypted data. Germany requires social media companies to remove illegal hate speech within 24 hours or face fines. Nevertheless, the suggestion would further damage relations between India and global technology firms. They have been at odds since last year due to centralized proposals requiring them to store more user data locally to better assist legal investigations.
The new rules, called “mediator strategy”, also propose to require companies with more than 5 million users in India to have a local office and a nodal officer for “24×7 harmonization with law enforcement”. When asked by a government organization or through a court order, companies should within 24 hours “remove or immobilize access” to “unlawful” content, they stipulate.
The rules also mandate companies to reveal the origin of a message when asked, which if forced would deal a blow to WhatsApp which boasts of end-to-end encryption to protect user privacy. WhatsApp has battled criticism after fake messages about child kidnap gangs on its platform sparked mob lynching’s in India last year.