India’s IT Law taking us the China way??
India’s new IT rules 2021 have grabbed all the attention of the left-wingers on 26th February 2021. All of a sudden we were introduced to a new set of guidelines and rules about social media. These new rules for digital platforms and news outlets called the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code asks all the social media platforms to set up a grievances redressal and compliance mechanism. This act totally changes the way how the internet will function in India.
The major highlight of this act is that social media platforms will have to remove unlawful
content with the help of a comprehensive process and big companies that provide messaging services will have to keep a track of the first originator of the information. This will increase censorship and reduce user privacy. Now let’s have a close look at the structure of the act for better understanding.
This act can also be called Intermediary Rules/Guidelines. There are three parts of the
Intermediary Rules. The first part (part I) lays down the definitions of terms. Part II deals with the regulation of intermediaries, including social media intermediaries. This covers message-related intermediaries as well as media-related intermediaries. Message-related intermediaries include platforms that provide messaging services like Whatsapp and Telegram, media-related intermediaries include social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Part III regulates the OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime as well as the regulation of news media. The news media regulation part is unclear, as there is no clarity on which media these rules apply to. So why is this act problematic? Why should you pay attention to it? The answer is the exploitation of basic fundamental rights; this act exploits two of the most cherished rights, which are the Fundamental Right of Freedom and Expression as well as the Right To Privacy.
These compliances favor’s the appointment of Grievance Redressal Officers, this makes it easy for the users to file a complaint against any content they dislike. The Grievance Officers are responsible for acknowledging and taking actions against the registered complaint within 36 hours. They must also ensure that the data or the information against which a complaint is registered must be deleted within 36 hours. A complaint can easily be sent to the appointed authorities against any content. There are two other important things to keep in mind here, firstly end-to-end encryption protects the messaging on the social media platforms to some extent. For instance, WhatsApp provides privacy to the users via end-to-end encryption, this simply means WhatsApp cannot read your messages. All the WhatsApp messages remain confidential. The new IT act implements traceability of any message as well as the originator. This simply means that your conversation data can be accessed by the government. Now, social media in today’s time is not only about connecting you with your loved ones, but also a place where people can voice their political opinions, especially in today’s time of crisis. It enables us to question the government or higher authorities. Social media which was once a platform for debates and criticism, a platform that gave us reality checks (thanks to all the biased/unbiased media) will now be regulated and controlled by the government. The area of concern is the two other features of this act, which are automated filtering and takedown of messages. In automated filtering, an algorithm is deployed to “clean” your social media account by using keywords or even on the basis of photographs. This feature is restricted to certain categories, like child abuse material. This particular feature is not problematic at all, in fact, this one feature was demanded by the people in the civil society. The rigid rule of this feature is that no material can be uploaded again once it is taken down, this will require social media to keep a track of all the items or maintain a consolidated list of all the deleted content, so basically not only child abuse, this will prevent the uploading of any material which was previously deleted.
This is a game of algorithm, and the algorithm will end up censoring a number of contents online, even if the material is not problematic. For instance, if a person uploads an image of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre with an intention of criticizing General Dyer, the algorithm will censor that particular post and prevent its uploading if another person has reported the same image in the past uploaded by some other user, which was actually problematic, or maybe an image that justified the incident. Similar footage was used in both cases, but with different intentions. This will result in the removal of large contents and materials from social media. The question is, are we as a “democracy” following the footsteps of neighboring China? The Indian and the Chinese governmental agencies can now have full authority to access any information. The New York Times called out this censorship style, “Chinese style censorship” rules. The digital rights of a citizen are in danger, the Center will be the regulator of our social media platforms. There have been so many instances in the past that made us question the functioning of the country as a democracy. Many instances made us wonder, “Is this really a democratic country?” Many memes call India as the biggest joke of democracy, it’s all written on a piece of paper but never implemented. It’s high time to set up huge hoardings of the basic rights that the Constitution grants us, maybe that’s the only way left?.
Article By : Anshika Barai