A couple of months back we reported the Indian government’s plan to enforce social media verification to reduce spam and fake news on different platforms. We haven’t heard about the outcome of the bill but in the meantime, the Indian government is planning to pass a new bill that could take away the user privacy.
First reported by Bloomberg (via Engadget), the bill will allow the government to demand social media platforms to reveal user identities without a proper warrant. The bill has been proposed by India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology who is expected to publish it later this month. The controversial bill was proposed by the government in December of 2018 and has since received a lot of backlash from the public. The Internet and Mobile Association of India, a trade group that is made of Facebook, Amazon and Alphabet and others, called the rules arbitrary, a violation of the right to privacy, financially unsound and “would be a violation of the right to privacy recognized by the Supreme Court.”
The guidelines for intermediaries are under process. We cannot comment on the guidelines or changes till they are published.
– N.N. Kaul, the media adviser to the minister of electronics & information technology
Once in effect, the law would require social media companies like Facebook, Google and TikTok to reveal user identities to help the government trace the origins of a post within 72 hours of a request. Moreover, the law would also require companies to preserve user data for 180 days to help the government with further investigation. Lastly, the law would also require companies to set up a brick-and-motor operation in India and appoint both a grievance officer to deal with user complaints and a government liaison.
As the bill gets closer to being a law, privacy advocates fear that the law will introduce censorship and will take away user’s Right to Free Speech and Right to Privacy, both of which are underlined by the Constitution of India. Moreover, it will also force the social media companies to break their end-to-end encryption and spy on users to adhere to the new rules proposed by the government.
Law enforcement agencies have been in direct conflict with the Tech companies and we have seen companies like Apple and WhatsApp deny access to the user data. While data is important in an investigation, it’s the company’s job to ensure user privacy and allowing the government to eavesdrop on their own citizens won’t be good for the company. In an open letter to India’s IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, executives from Mozilla Corp., GitHub Inc. and Cloudflare Inc. said the guidelines could lead to “automated censorship” and “increase surveillance.”
WhatsApp, on the other hand, has refused to follow the new bill. The company said it will “not compromise on security because that would make people less safe,” it said in a statement on Wednesday. “For even more protection, we work with top security experts, employ industry-leading technology to stop misuse as well as provide controls and ways to report issues — without sacrificing privacy.”