India will not hold back from making laws that safeguard national interest when it comes to regulating social media content, RS Prasad, India’s Union Minister for Electronics, told Reuters. Prasad added that the country will hold ‘wide consultations’ with internet companies before finalizing the rules.

“We’ll be fair, we’ll be objective, but India’s sovereign right to frame rules and laws will always be there,” Prasad said. “As a minister, I want to assure that a social media company shall not be allowed to abuse the data of Indians to influence elections,” he added.

According to the report, technology companies have lobbied the government as the proposed rules “impose burdensome obligations” on them. The Centre is currently in the process of finalizing the country’s intermediary liability rules.

The rules and their implications

In late December, MeitY released the proposed changes to the Intermediary Liability Rules under the IT Act. The rules propose stringent regulation from internet companies and intermediaries, requirement of a physical office in India, and providing information to the government within 72 hours. For a platform like WhatsApp, this would mean breaking end-to-end encryption to ensure traceability.

The rules also need platforms to proactively take down content and unlawful content within a shorter period of time than before.

What companies have said about the proposed rules

A month after the call for consultations, Mozilla, Wikimedia Foundation, and GitHub wrote an open letter to RS Prasad pointing out that the proposed rules “take an unprecedented step” in turning the open internet to “a tool of automated censorship and surveillance of its users.”

Other stakeholders have noted issues with proposed rules as well. The Asia Internet Coalition – whose members include AirBnB, Amazon, Apple, Expedia Group, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn etc – submitted that the proposals “fall short of India’s legal precedents and laws around privacy and free speech.”

The Indian Music Industry said that the ‘Shreya Singhal v, Union a/India’ judgment did not “deal with hosting of infringing content on the internet” and that the “2018 Rules in its existing form will dramatically increase digital piracy in India.”

Star India, said that the proposed Rule 3(9) will fulfil its intended purpose “only if a corresponding amendment is made to clarify that the phrase “unlawful information” refers to information including the categories mentioned in Rule 2 which encompasses information which “infringes any patent, trademark, copyright or other proprietary rights.”

Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandasekar, in his submission, said that, “Hence my contention that intermediaries must no longer enjoy the safe harbor exemption and must be made responsible for the content on their platforms to some extent… Intermediaries must be treated differently based on their capacity and means to filter the content.” Chandrasekhar stated that proactive content removal could lead to over-censorship but this can be addressed through regulation (without specifying how).

Also read: A serious and imminent threat to the open Internet in India

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Read our coverage of #NAMA discussions on the proposed Intermediary Liability rules: