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Sri Lanka mulling laws to regulate use of social media: report

The Sri Lankan government is looking at imposing new laws to regulate the use of social media, the Daily News reported Member of Parliament Lasantha Alagiyawanna as saying. The proposed laws, one among an 11-point plan that the government came up with in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday bombings on April 21, will be aimed at controlling the dissemination of information that can have a “harmful influence”. The MP said that the new laws wouldn’t mean a “complete ban” on social media in Sri Lanka. India has also drafted a similar amendment called Information Technology Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment), 2018 to the the Intermediary Liability Rules 2011, under which social media companies or “intermediaries” will be held liable for posts that spread misinformation or incite violence.

The report comes at a time when Sri Lanka has drafted a Cyber Security Bill to protect vital information and essential services from cyber attacks. This raises the question: where would the proposed laws fit within the context of the new bill?

Sri Lanka’s new Cyber Security Bill

The bill gives the government the power to establish a Cyber Security Agency. It is meant to empower the Sri Lanka Computer Emergency Readiness Team and National Cyber Security Operations Centre to protect critical information infrastructure necessary for the continuous delivery of essential services.

The Bill aims to:

  1. ensure the effective implementation of the National Cyber Security Strategy in Sri Lanka,
  2. prevent, mitigate and respond to cyber security threats and incidents efficiently,
  3. establish the Cyber Security Agency to strengthen the institutional framework for cyber security, and
  4. protect critical information infrastructure.

Social media bans in Sri Lanka since the Easter bombings

In the aftermath of the Easter Sunday bombings on April 21, the government imposed a complete/temporary ban on social media usage on more than one occasion. Here is a timeline:

April 22: Sri Lanka blocked multiple social media networks, including Facebook and WhatsApp a day after the terrorist attacks to halt the spread of misinformation. YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook Messenger and Viber were also inaccessible, according to internet freedom tracker Netblocks. The ban was lifted after 10 days.

May 6: The government temporarily banned access to social media platforms again to control the spread of misinformation following ethnic tensions in Negombo, one of the cities targeted in the bombings. The ban was lifted the next day.

May 13: Sri Lanka once again temporarily banned some social media and messaging services after mosques and Muslim-owned businesses were reportedly attacked, per Reuters. Netblocks confirmed that Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube, Viber, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger were blocked on leading internet providers. This ban lasted 4 days.

Read: Sri Lanka bans drones indefinitely

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