With draft Information Technology Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules, 2018, likely to be finalised by January 15, 2020, will internet usage be regulated and Facebook and WhatsApp be reined in? The draft aims at checking the misuse of social media platforms and direct them to share with probe agencies the decrypted messages of people under investigation. The hearing in Supreme Court this week saw the Central and Tamil Nadu governments asserting that intermediaries were mandated under the Information Technology Act to provide probe agencies with decrypted messages. However social media platforms said they cannot not be tied down in this manner.
The internet penetration in the county has been so deep that there is a significant rise in the use of social media among Indians. While YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram are widely popular, they are also facing flak for data theft and spread of misinformation.
Last year, rumours and misinformation about child kidnapping through WhatsApp led to cases of mob lynching and death of several people in the country. The ministry of electronics and information technology wanted WhatsApp to curb the spread of fake news, hate speech and identify users responsible for spreading such rumours.
Also, the Cambridge Analytica scam revealed that FB had allegedly shared data of several thousand Indian users with a consulting firm that had sought to influence Indian polls.
ByteDance’s mobile app TikTok which allows its several million users to
create and share short videos was banned by the Madurai bench of Madras high court. The court noted that children were exposed to inappropriate content including pornography through the app. TikTok argued that it was merely an intermediary on which users can generate and post content. However, the Madras high court lifted the ban and warned TikTok against obscenity.
Similarly, Blue Whale game claimed several young lives. Widespread awareness made parents keep tabs on their wards against this deadly challenge. Google, FB and Twitter were asked to delete all
Blue Whale links from their platforms.
YouTube by offering an open platform is unable to prevent any video because it cannot examine every video uploaded.
The Centre, preparing the new rules to prevent internet misuse, is probably taking a cue from China which promotes its very own Internet giants like Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent. At the same time, the government may not want to curb the lucrative business route of US internet services.
The Supreme Court, while raising doubts whether intermediaries are under legal obligation to provide the decryp-
ted messages, said, “Prima facie, we don’t agree.
We may agree with you eventually, but we do not agree straightway that they are mandated to share information.” The judge cited the example of the US and said the government can have its own agency for decrypting of messages.
The Central government must avoid any knee-jerk reaction and tread the middle path in formulating guidelines to regulate intermediaries. While users
must fully know what data is used, social media platforms must take responsibility for the content they distribute among users and understand their obligations.