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Published On: Tue, Jan 22nd, 2019

Government Proposes Social Media Rules That Could Suppress Users’ Speech

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social-media-1NEW DELHI : The Indian government is proposing new rules that aim to prevent the spread of misinformation on social media, sparking free speech concerns among local advocacy groups. The government has proposed to amend Section 79 of the country’s IT Act, which would require social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook to censor content deemed inappropriate by the government, according to The Verge.
If amended, the law would require social media networks to provide users’ private messages to the government, if they’re requested. Additionally, social media platforms would need to send users a monthly copy of their privacy policies. Civil liberties group Internet Freedom Foundation said the new rules could “break end to end encryption” and would be a “sledgehammer to online free speech.”

The government is keen on getting feedbacks and clarifying doubts, through the proposed exercise, said the person familiar with the development. The government proposes to amend the information technology (IT) rules to curb “misuse” of social media and online platforms, and the IT Ministry on December 24 released draft changes that would require such ‘intermediaries’ to enable tracing of originators of information when required by authorised government agencies.

The IT ministry officials held a meeting last month with senior executives of Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and other companies to discuss these proposed changes in the IT rules, and the wider public feedback has been sought on the issues in last week.
The proposed changes, which come ahead of general elections in 2019, in the rules will place social media platforms under the lens and require them to deploy tools to “identify” and curb unlawful content, as well as follow stricter due-diligence practices.
The government’s decision to bring amendments had been slammed by the Opposition which had termed the move as one that would violate the privacy of individuals, and an attempt to convert India into a “nanny state”.Experts have also warned that the planned amendments, that mandate traceability of “unlawful content”, could invade personal privacy and free speech.

Some companies have responded to the proposal by self-censoring. in last week Netflix banned content that would be considered unlawful, in an attempt to “avoid official government censorship,” BuzzFeed News reported. Eight other streaming services did the same.The Indian government has not specified what would qualify as “unlawful” content; however, it would likely include hate speech, defamation, child abuse, and rape imagery, according to Wired.
“Whittling down intermediary liability protections and undermining end-to-end encryption are blunt and disproportionate tools that fail to strike the right balance,” said Mozilla policy adviser Amba Kak.Some activists are concerned the proposed rules could lead to the mass surveillance of internet users, in addition to government suppression of speech. (With Inputs from BuzzFeed ).

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