4 causes to be frightened about India’s new IT guidelines which are supposed to manage Massive Tech
The Indian government’s new information technology rules may have been sold to citizens and the world to halt global efforts to contain big tech and control social media companies that many now view as a threat to society. But the very first notice released this week under the new rules gave us a glimpse of how they are likely to actually develop.
A report was issued to a journalist in Manipur on Monday, signed by a judge and served on him by the police. He asked him to “provide all relevant documents showing that you are ensuring compliance with the regulations [of the new rules]… if not, which steps are considered appropriate, they will be initiated without further notice. “
According to journalist Paobel Chaoba, the announcement was in response to an online discussion posted on The Frontier Manipur’s Facebook page about the new IT rules, entitled “Media Under Siege: Are Journalists Closing a Rope?”
A little later, the notice was withdrawn after the Union’s Secretary of Information and Broadcasting, Amit Khare, wrote to Manipur’s chief secretary, Rajesh Kumar, that such an order was only issued by the Union’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and not by a local judge or the competent authority could come police.
However, the incident highlighted how authorities across the country are likely to see and potentially apply the new rules – as a means of exercising more control over language and expression on the Internet rather than control over tech giants.
In the background, this Internet Freedom Foundation explainer goes into detail about what the new rules say and what they mean for India.
But here are the very broad brushstrokes:
- Online platforms are now required to respond much more quickly to complaints about posts on their networks, including giving government details of the “originator” of content – effectively breaking end-to-end encryption – and setting up verification systems that could have a major impact on an individual’s privacy.
- The rules go beyond internet platforms and also apply to digital news organizations and video streaming platforms such as Netflix or JioTV. This gives the government many more options to intervene, censor, and re-classify online material.
The new rules have been praised by pro-government voices and much criticism, and their effects become clearer when implemented and challenged in court.
But here are four reasons citizens should be careful:
1. No legislative process
There is a reason these are “rules” rather than “laws”. The government has made massive changes to the way the Internet works in India, without even having to refer the matter to parliament by changing the rules in pre-existing sections of the law.
Some of this may be defensible, although attorney Prashant Reddy has argued that “the legislative history of Section 79 [of the Information Technology Act] makes it clear that the government lacks the power to impose conditions on Internet intermediaries who wish to enjoy the immunities provided in Section 79. “
But even if you accept that the government has the power to set terms and conditions for online platforms, extending the rules to digital news organizations and video streaming portals has no basis in the original laws.
As the recently passed agricultural laws have shown, even the shifting of laws by Parliament is no guarantee of fruitful discussion and legislative safeguards. However, the fact that the government has bypassed the legislative path altogether should be a warning sign.
2. No advice
Another similarity between the agricultural laws and the way the government has approached this process is that it is unwilling to liaise with the relevant stakeholders, particularly in expanding the scope of the rules to include digital news organizations and Online streaming services.
As the executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation, Apar Gupta, wrote:
“The scope of the Information Technology Act of 2000 is limited. It extends only to the blocking of websites and the framework for the liability of intermediaries, but not to authors and creators of content. Therefore, the law does not extend to the news media, although Executive Fiat has stretched it to do so. This may seem like legal semantics, but all of this leads to terrible results …
The content of many requirements has never been publicly consulted or advised by experts. This applies in particular to the provisions for online news portals and video streaming platforms. There was opacity in these aspects. “
3. Extension of executive powers
According to the government, the new rules create a system that allows complaints about various online content to be handled with minimal government interference. In reality, however, the rules create a bureaucratic superstructure that gives the executive much more power over regulating the Internet on the Internet.
For example, as the IFF declarer points out, the Department of Information and Broadcasting retains the power to approve the composition of this body, even though there is a “self-regulatory body” that monitors complaints related to digital news organizations and video streaming platforms.
One step above this body is an “interdepartmental committee” made up of representatives from various ministries who are empowered to issue warnings, order disclaimers to be published, insist on apologies, or even censor material online.
Although the government already had the power to do some of these things, Access Now’s Raman Jit Singh Chima writes that the new rules provide a way for the state to censor material without dealing with the criticism that it is in Past has evoked:
“Why has the Union government created this legally insecure, extensive house-of-cards-like regulatory instrument? To understand these new rules for controlling internet content – that’s what they essentially are – you need to see not only what they are giving the government directly, but what the government wants to do behind a shadow of regulatory pressure.
It seems that the government wants to send a message to all actors in the internet ecosystem that they want their formal or informal requests for content removal to be fulfilled, as well as the elimination of any reluctance to excessive demands on user data and other surveillance orders from government agencies …
The indication that the government has decided to enforce these mandates by notifying them even in the event of doubtful legal validity is an important signal effect for the actors of the internet ecosystem, especially for companies that want to avoid public battles and for smaller ones Companies that do not have the resources or the political position to challenge government policies overboard. “
4. What about privacy?
In 2019, the government passed a law on the protection of personal data in parliament. Although the massive exemptions to government surveillance in Justice BN Srikrishna’s bill were referred to as “Orwellian” – whose original report formed the basis of the law – it at least outlined the basis of a data protection law for Indian citizens.
The fact that the government continues to introduce new regulations for digital space in 2021 without having yet passed a data protection law affects its governance priorities.
Indeed, the new rules have significant potential privacy implications, particularly through the requirements for internet platforms to track the “originator” of information, and essentially prohibit the use of end-to-end encryption by services like WhatsApp.
They also insist that major online platforms have an identity verification system that would “likely result in users sharing phone numbers or sending photos of government-issued ID cards to businesses” and “incentives for capturing sensitive ones.” could create personal data that are transmitted for this review, with which users can then also be profiled and addressed ”.
With no data protection law in sight and new government rules undermining this fundamental right, citizens should be concerned about how the state monitors all online activity.