This article is from Feb 28, 2021

Govt imposes new restrictions on social media… Is it threatening freedom of expression?

The central government has implemented new regulatory rules for social media. The central government has imposed mandatory rules on social networking sites such as WhatsApp and Facebook to identify who uploaded data that the government considers “illegal.”

The detailed rules were unveiled at a joint press conference between Union Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javdekar last Thursday

These rules, as recommended by the Central Government under Section 87 of the Government of India Information Technology Act, 2000, are the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.  

In the absence of a strong data protection act in India, ordering social networking sites to locate the user details of data that the government has banned as “illegal” within 36 hours reinforces the central government’s surveillance objective.

Also, websites should appoint cofficials and share their name and contact details. They must accept complaints within 24 hours and take action within 15 days.

It also has separate rules for avoiding sexual offences. Accordingly, social networking sites should remove all personal display of personalities, including full or partial nudity or sexual harassment, or impersonation, including “morphing,” within 24 hours.

With regard to digital media organizations, the government deprives the press of its right to claim that the central government has the right to remove any news item under section 69A of the Information Technology Act if it is considered objectionable from the point of view of law and order in the country, sovereignty, integrity or friendly relations with neighbouring countries.

In an interview with Hindu daily, Prashant Sukathan, Legal Director, said, “The mandatory rule of identifying the originator of the information is complicated by security features such as” data encryption “of processes such as WhatsApp and Signal, and a primary compliance with processes such as” Signal “and” Telegram “. It will be difficult to meet the mandatory requirements for the appointment of an officer, a nodal officer and a mitigation officer. ” he said

In India, according to government data,  

  • WhatsApp users – 53 crore  
  • YouTube users – 44.8 crore
  • Facebook users – 41 crore
  • Instagram users – 21 crore
  • Twitter users – 1.75 crore 

Social networking sites have emerged as a powerful alternative medium in India as the leanings of newspapers and television news organizations have changed to suit the political environment and have reached the hands of about 50% of the population. Although the spread of fake news was the reason to created this rules and definitions for social networking sites, the new rules that have just been issued are classified by the Union Minister of Information Technology, Ravi Shankar Prasad, as an “oversight mechanism” that interfere the people’s privacy, security and freedom of speech.

Read more: OTT Censorship: What is the message the central government is informing the public?

  • Arun Prasad, Student Journalist (Training)

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