New social media guidelines in India might threaten free expression, critics warn

With AFP 7h ago

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New Delhi, India – Internet freedom advocates have warned that new Indian social media regulations could pose a threat to freedom of expression after New Delhi announced plans for tough new rules that could force platforms to remove content that is consider them objectionable.

Under the new rules, unveiled on Thursday and slated to go into effect in three months, social media platforms, online streaming services and digital messaging services could be forced to remove content 36 hours after filing a complaint.

Tech companies are also required to disclose the origin of a “roguish tweet or message” if requested to do so by an Indian court or government.

This could lead to the exposure of encrypted messages – a key selling point for Facebook’s Whatsapp platform, which has hundreds of millions of users in India.

Mozilla, developer of the Firefox Internet browser used by hundreds of millions of people around the world, has called for the regulations to be withdrawn.

“In their current form, these rules will undeniably affect freedom of expression, privacy and security and could be subject to legal challenges,” said Udbhav Tiwari, public policy advisor for Mozilla Corporation.

“Provisions like encrypted content traceability, shortening hard content schedules, and automated content filtering are blunt and disproportionate to the intent behind these changes.”

Other Indian activists have also warned that the rules could be challenged in court.

“I think these new rules are extremely worrying because they impose a free speech and privacy regime without legal support,” Nikhil Pahwa, founder of a digital news portal and cyber activist, told AFP.

“In my opinion, all of these rules should be challenged in court, and if so, I doubt they would last.”

Facebook and Twitter, which are a key market for 1.3 billion people in India, have said they are studying the guidelines.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the Indian government to strike a balance between transparency, freedom of expression and privacy,” said a Twitter spokesman.

The social media giant wants regulation “that protects the open internet and universal access and promotes competition and innovation,” they added.

New Delhi accused the big tech firms of “double standards” when it announced the new regulations on Thursday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government was in a protracted battle with Twitter over protests from tens of thousands of peasant protests against government market reforms in which the social media giant opposed a government order to delete hundreds of accounts and comments.

Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said technology companies need to be “more responsible and accountable”, describing the rules as “soft-touch oversight”.

A government official said talks about the plans with the tech companies have already started.

“They accept that there has to be some kind of regulation,” said the official on condition of anonymity. “There could be some changes to the rules”.

France Media Agency

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