Centre Wants Feedback On Breaking Encryption To Trace “Unlawful” Content

The government has invited comments from social media platforms on redoing the IT rules to enable breaking end-to-end encryption and tracking of messages or “unlawful” online content. As questions were raised about an attack on freedom of speech and expression, the government said in a statement that the new rules had been proposed to check the misuse of social media platforms and the spread of fake news.

The proposed amendments in the draft of the Information Technology [Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules] 2018, Rule 3(9) is bound to force social media platforms like Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter to remain vigil and keep users on their toes before posting or sharing anything that is deemed as “unlawful information or content”.

The changes proposed by the central government is aimed at curbing fake news or rumors being spread on social media and check mob violence ahead.

What the new rules propose?

The changes will require online platforms to break end-to-end encryption in order to ascertain the origin of messages. The social media platforms to “deploy technology based automated tools or appropriate mechanisms, with appropriate controls, for proactively identifying or removing or disabling access to unlawful information or content”.

As per the amendment, the social media platforms will need to comply with the central government “within 72 hours” of a query.

There should be a ‘Nodal person of Contact for 24X7 coordination with law enforcement agencies and officers to ensure compliance. The social media platforms will be keeping a vigil on “unlawful activity” for a period of “180 days”.

With concerns over “rising incidents of violence and lynching in the country due to misuse of social media platforms”, there is now need for online platforms to shoulder the “responsibility, accountability and larger commitment to ensure that its platform is not misused on a large scale to spread incorrect facts projected as news and designed to instigate people to commit crime”.

The proposed changes have once again given rise to a debate on whether the government is intruding into the privacy of individuals, evoking a sharp response from opposition parties. Similar apprehensions were raised with the Section 66A of the IT Act that enabled authorities to arrest users for posting content which was termed as offensive. However, the Supreme Court on March 24, 2015, struck down the law.

India has the second highest number of internet users in the world after China, an estimated 462.12 million. Among them, 258.27 million were likely to be social network users in the country in 2019.

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