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Proposed intermediary liability rules are a threat to Wikipedia’s collaborative model: Wikimedia Foundation to IT Ministry


The proposed changes to India’s intermediary liability changes might “have serious impact on Wikipedia’s open editing model, create a significant financial burden for nonprofit technology organisations and have the potential to limit free expression rights for internet users across the country,” the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit group that operates Wikipedia and a number of other projects, said in a letter to IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. The letter, written by the Foundation’s General Counsel Amanda Keton, also urged the government to make the latest proposed changes to the intermediary rules public so that concerned stakeholders could have a chance to participate in a “robust and informed debate about how the internet should be governed in India”. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) had told the Supreme Court that it would notify the Intermediary Guidelines (Amendment) Rules 2018 by January 15.

Automated content takedown ‘antithetical’ to Wikipedia’s global perspective: Since “someone in New Delhi could collaborate on the same English Wikipedia article alongside an editor in Berlin,” it becomes “impossible to restrict changes inside a Wikipedia article from being visible in one country and not another,” Keton argued.

Wikipedia’s collaborative system will be disrupted: Obligatory filtering systems will severely disrupt Wikipedia’s collaborative system and short response times for content removal would interfere with people’s ability to collaborate in real time “on Wiki”. “Wikipedia is structured by individual languages, not geographic markets. People work together in real-time to write articles about topics of interest on Wikipedia,” the letter added.

“Fulfilling mandatory content removal requirements from one country would leave problematic gaps in Wikipedia for the whole world, break apart highly context-specific encyclopedic articles, and prevent people from accessing information that may be legal in their country.” — Wikimedia Foundation

‘Unrealistic’ for a global non-profit to comply with the changes: While larger companies might be able to comply with the proposed changes, it “would be an unrealistic burden for a global nonprofit with limited resources to comply with local incorporation requirements,” Keton said. Rules that mandate removal of content or cooperating with law enforcement agencies in short period of time can be “impractical,” without significant additional investments in either new employees or technology, she added.

“We fear that such burdens will consume vital resources that would otherwise be directed to providing access to knowledge and reliable, neutral information to Indian citizens.” — Wikimedia Foundation

Traceability is a ‘serious threat to freedom of expression’: The letter also called the traceability requirement a “serious threat to freedom of expression,” since it can potentially affect Wikipedia contributors from freely participating in the project. If websites start tracking their users, it will discourage free communication along with hampering legal economic activity on the internet, “especially in countries where online censorship is prevalent —  but not only there”.

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“An important feature of Wikipedia is that the website does not track its users. This is important for data protection reasons and readers’ and contributors’ autonomy alike. However, it is also crucial for the safety of Wikipedia contributors who contribute or moderate content on sensitive topics, or who contribute from regions where their personal safety could be at risk for editing Wikipedia.” — Wikimedia Foundation

‘Define social media intermediaries and set different requirements for significant fiduciaries’: The negative effects of the proposed changes on websites can be mitigated by defining social media intermediaries and by taking a “layered approach to obligations like those laid out by the Data Protection Bill of 2019 (section 26) which sets different requirements for significant fiduciaries,” the letter said.

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