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Instagram starts verifying suspicious accounts using government and other IDs

Instagram will now ask users engaging in coordinated inauthentic behaviour to start verifying their identities using government and other forms of IDs, the platform announced on August 13. If the account engages in coordinated inauthentic behaviour, has signs of automation, or has most of their followers in a different country from their own, they will be asked to show government IDs such as tax identification card, passport, birth certificate, etc., or other records such as school ID, electricity bill, etc., the company said.

An uploaded ID will be stored “securely” and deleted within 30 days of the company completing its review, Instagram said. The ID will not be shared on the person’ profile. For an ID to be acceptable, the user cannot withhold or “electronically modify” any part of the ID. Instagram will simply “ignore” the sensitive personal information on an ID such as a social security number. It is not clear if in this interim 30-day period, Instagram will share these government IDs with the law enforcement agencies if it receives such a request from the latter.

If a person chooses not to confirm their information, Instagram may reduce the distribution of their content or disable their account. At this stage, it is not known if the company will institute an appeals process. It is also not clear if this verification will be carried out only in the US or across the world, or if Facebook will also implement a similar policy. We have reached out to Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, for more information.

India’s Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, has a similar provision

The new version of the Personal Data Protection Bill, that is currently being deliberated upon by a Joint Parliamentary Committee, introduced an obligation for social media companies classified as “significant data fiduciaries” to provide users a way to “voluntarily verify” their accounts in a yet to be defined manner.

Read more: Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019: Looking at social media intermediaries and significant data fiduciaries

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Similar pleas have been made in Indian courts

Verification of social media users has been a bone of contention in India. What eventually became the WhatsApp traceability case and was transferred to the Supreme Court actually started out as a writ petition in the Madras High Court where the petitioners, Antony Clement Rubin and Janani Krishnamurthy, asked for social media accounts to be mandatorily linked to Aadhaar or any other government document so that abusers on social media could be easily nabbed. At a later date, Rubin had asked the High Court to remove Aadhaar from his original plea and consider only ‘authorised government proofs’.

The Madras High Court had dismissed the original plea to link Aadhaar to social media accounts and instead expanded the scope of the case to include curbing cybercrime, allocating intermediary liability, and tracing the originator on an end-to-end encrypted platform such as WhatsApp.

Another case was transferred to the Supreme Court from Jabalpur High Court. The petitioner there, Amitabh Gupta, wanted the Court to direct Facebook to allow new accounts only after they furnished their KYC details and wanted Facebook to verify new users through ID documents such as Aadhaar, driving licence, and/or voter ID along with a photograph.

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