View: New IT guidelines are an overreach, will impact our flexibilities

There will be a task opening at Google in India for a Chief Compliance Officer in the next few months, but it’s not one that many individuals will jump at. It comes with a genuine risk: going to jail.In 2012, cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was reserved for sedition for a cartoon on his blog site, run on a Google-owned service, that depicted the Indian national symbol in a way that highlighted corruption under the UPA government. If a Chief Compliance Officer, under Guideline 3( 2) of the new Infotech Rules 2021, following a complaint from a user, were to not remove such content, she would have to handle criminal liability on behalf of the platform. The same would apply for another abstract idea– libel. With the scale at which grievances relating to sedition and character assassination are being filed in the country, platforms and complaint officers are likely to err on the side of caution and end up censoring genuine speech. Picture having to handle a million such grievances from amongst almost 700 million Indians in 15 days, as the guidelines dictate. Provided the low threshold of 5 million users for a country like India, and the broad meaning in the guidelines, services like Google Docs, PhonePe, Practo, Zoho, Freshdesk and Naukri are likewise substantial social networks intermediaries, and face similar compliances.The IT Rules are the largest growth of federal government control over speech in the country in the last years. This need to manage the narrative, and to restrict criticism of the federal government was recently highlighted in a leaked report from the Group of Ministers on government interaction. The internet has been cast broad, covering whatever from ISPs, handset providers, email, WhatsApp, Zoom, Netflix, Hotstar and all the news sites we view online. The federal government’s China-envy is now exposed. Like China, the control is exercised through “self-regulatory systems” or “guidelines” put in location for platforms and services, but the charges are such that our liberties will be impacted.Another crucial part of the guidelines is that the platforms need to offer recognition of the very first producer of a message. The world is moving towards technologies such as end-to-end encryption, which ensure that the security of our messages stays undamaged. By trying to require a technological change through the changes in these guidelines, the Indian federal government will wind up making interactions on services like Signal and WhatsApp more vulnerable and less safe.The guidelines also empower the federal government to step in and censor streaming content, after it goes through adjudication via a few layers of a self-regulatory system. Bureaucrats become the eventual determinants of whether content is fit-to-consume. This is a change from 2015, when the Chief Law Officer of India said if someone is viewing content online (because case it was porn) the federal government can not do ethical policing. Streaming services are not relayed or public exhibit: users select and see the material in a personal environment.A similar regulatory structure for censorship is being produced through these rules for online news which might capture everybody one from a YouTuber running advertisements on her discuss the news, in addition to professional news publications focusing on specific niche domains. The compliance concern of grievance redressal here, which doesn’t apply to standard publishers, would make many of them unviable. Here the government has provided itself an additional power to covertly block news material online without any judicial oversight: it would be prohibited for online news publishers to reveal that they’ve been asked to censor content. That’s one method to change the general public narrative.Over the previous couple of years, the Indian federal government has actually been informed in assessments that the IT Act itself does not enable it to create these arrangements for traceability, or push platforms towards proactive tracking and take-down of content. It’s also true that the Act doesn’t enable the production of entire regulatory structures for streaming services or perhaps digital news. For the government to alert these rules, knowingly undermine the parliamentary process of law-making, and challenge the Indian resident to go to court to make sure that such actions are deemed unconstitutional, is naturally bad-faith regulation. A federal government needs to be better than this.It took the arrest of Baazee.com co-founder Avnish Bajaj in 2006, when he landed in Delhi to work together with the Delhi Cops, for the IT Act to be amended in 2008 to safeguard platforms. It took the arrest of Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan– one for an innocuous post, the other for liking it– in 2012, for Area 66A to become held unconstitutional in 2015. Who will have to suffer now for these regressive and extreme guidelines to be junked?( Nikhil Pahwa is the founder of MediaNama. Views revealed are of the author’s and not of www.economictimes.com)

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