Hyderabad: The Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC), a donor-supported legal services organisation which advocates against barriers on the internet, recently released its report on “Intermediary Liability”. In this report, SFLC has listed its suggested amendments to the Draft Intermediary Guidelines (Amendment), 2018 under the Information Technology Act.
The term “intermediary” refers to all tech companies that host user data to provide them with a platform for communication. This umbrella term includes ISPs, social media websites, search engines and even comment sections of blogs and websites. The guidelines propose to change three key aspects -- pre-censorship using upload filters, traceability of data and mandatory local incorporation of foreign firms. Several companies such as Wikimedia Foundation have expressed concern over the guidelines, complaining that they are not enforceable and would gravely impact their operations.
On upload filters -- which block users from posting “objectionable” content -- the report said filters should not be made mandatory for companies. Upload filters are a form of pre-censorship wherein users will not be allowed to post content that is deemed unfit. It said
most companies do not have the resources to deploy such filters and the rule will disproportionately affect the smaller players. ‘These tools are known to be ineffective, enhance existing biases and further marginalise existing minority groups,’ it said.
On traceability of data, the report said the government’s proposed requirement is impossible to satisfy for many intermediaries. An example of traceability is if WhatsApp is able to trace a particular message to its original sender. ‘No country is demanding such broad level of traceability,’ the report said and added that it would be a violation of privacy.
The third change, the proposed local incorporation rule too was criticised in the report. The requirement mandates that service providers with more than 5 million users will have to set up shop in India. The report noted that this provision could lead to compliance burden and should be made voluntary for intermediaries. However, it also suggested that to implement it a single officer should be appointed to fulfil compliance. This, it said, would avoid confusion among the companies....