The Asia Internet Coalition fears that the amendment to India’s IT rules grant the local government expansive content removal authority without implementing adequate procedural safeguards. The group has voiced its concerns over the amendment in a Letter to India’s Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY). The group says that while it applauds DeitY for their efforts to update the Guidelines on Foreign Exchange Administration ( Frenzy Rules ), they are concerned about how these changes could impact freedom of expression and online privacy.
The Asia Internet Coalition is urging DeitY to take additional measures to protect freedom of expression and online privacy before finalizing these amendments.
The new IT rules barring social media platforms from disseminating false or misleading information about the government’s business affairs is a step in the right direction, as it will help to ensure that citizens are receiving accurate information on important governmental matters. However, certain questions remain unanswered, such as who will be responsible for ensuring that claims verified by New Delhi’s own fact-checking unit are accurate? Additionally, while the regulation is a positive development, it does little to address concerns about social media addiction and its potential negative consequences.
Many scholars argue that due to the rapidly growing economic power of India and its large population, social media will play an increasingly important role in the country’s political landscape. Already, politicians have taken to Twitter and other platforms to communicate with their constituents; in addition, social media has helped marginalized groups raise awareness about their issues. As India’s economy continues to grow, so too will its political polarization; social media will be an important tool for politicians attempting to keep track of voters and appeal to them on a personal level.
The amendments lack the “necessary procedural safeguards” to protect people’s fundamental rights to access information, said Jeff Paine, Managing Director of AIC in a statement Monday. Without these safeguards in place, citizens could be at risk of government abuse and suppression of free speech. The bill needs further revisions before it can be considered Constitutional.
When the government relies on a press release from an agency such as the Press Information Bureau to fact-check their business, it leaves journalists without clear information or checks and balances. This can harm press freedom, as it can lead to misinformation being spread about government affairs.
Some experts in the sector recommend that the government create industry-wide consultations in order to come up with a safety plan for the internet. Other possible measures put forward include voluntary mechanisms to protect users from harm, such as age restrictions on certain websites. It is important to consider theseoptions as cybercrime is on the rise and more people are susceptible to online threats.