Mozilla, the Wikimedia Foundation, and the now Microsoft-owned GitHub have written an open letter (pdf) to RS Prasad, the Union Minister of Electronics and IT, outlining their concerns with respect to the newly proposed Intermediary Liability guidelines. These 3 organisations together have “tens of millions” of users across India.

Their letter states that while the three organisations support making the internet a safer place, the current proposal “takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the internet from an open platform for creation, collaboration, access to knowledge, and innovation to a tool of automated censorship and surveillance of its users.”

Its concerns about the proposed intermediary liability rules are:

Purging content and censorship

The letter states that proactive purging of unlawful content or liability on behalf of its users upends the balance which holds bad actors liable, and companies are liable only when they are aware of such acts.

  • New rules would place a “tremendous and in many cases fatal burden” on online intermediaries.
  • This is not sustainable for a community or a startup, while large platforms which will be able to comply will be “incentivised to over-censor and take down lawful content in order to avoid the threat of liability and litigation.”
  • This filtering will “hamper the diversity of online discourse and chill free expression.”

Surveillance on internet services

  • The new rules will “significantly expand” surveillance requirements by monitoring postings of all users as well as handover info about content “senders and receivers” to the government.
  • We need strong protection of user privacy “to foster a healthy discourse and access to knowledge on the internet.”

The definition of intermediaries

  • The broad definition of intermediaries will cause “unintended harm.” The rules apply to all intermediaries including knowledge repositories, OSes, browsers etc.
  • “Importantly, we do not believe this broad range of services are the intended targets of this regulation.”

India localisation

  • The rules put a “blunt requirement” on any service with over 5 million users in India to incorporate in the country. In the group’s opinion, this is a “major operational obligation” without justification and a timeframe for compliance.
  • “This raises fears of international companies, services, and nonprofits being forced to close themselves off to Indian users, while also deterring potential market expansion of new players into India. Less diversity of services means less choices for users, harming the vibrancy of the Indian digital ecosystem.”

Ultimately, the letter adds that while the organisations are committed to privacy, freedom of speech, access to knowledge, and open collaboration, “… these rules would push us to surveil and censor content to the point of embedding automated infrastructure for surveillance and censorship of Indian users into our networks. As currently drafted, these rules would undermine Indian users’ access to myriad sites and services, putting them at a considerable disadvantage compared to users, developers, and organizations in other countries.”

“… But we cannot support the current draft of the rules put forward by the Ministry. For the sake of the internet’s future and Indian users, we urge you to abandon these proposed rules and begin afresh with public consultations on the appropriate way to counter harmful speech online,” the letter concludes.

Also read: Mozilla calls proposed IT rule changes for intermediaries ‘blunt and disproportionate’

Our intermediary liability coverage.