In a strongly worded letter, India slammed the Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations who had written to the government criticising the country’s new IT rules for infringing upon several human rights.
“We express serious concern about obligations on companies to monitor and rapidly remove user-generated content, which we fear is likely to undermine the right to freedom of expression,” three UN Special Rapporteurs had written earlier on 11 June.
In response to their concerns, India’s permanent mission at the United Nations said that the IT rules are “designed to empower ordinary users of social media”. It also said that the “rules were finalised after due discussions with various stakeholders”.
“The Permanent Mission of India would also like to highlight that India’s democratic credentials are well recognised,” the letter said.
Although the government’s IT guidelines is intended to control the spread of fake news on social media platforms and put some onus on the tech companies, these rules have also faced severe criticism for posing a threat to fundamental rights granted to the citizens by the Constitution.
Multiple instances of the government trying to shutdown criticism against its governance on social media has lead to a growing scepticism around how the new rules could be used to muffle dissent.
Taking note of these concerns, the UN Special Rapporteurs’ letter to the government stated, “We are seriously concerned that Section 4 may compromise the right to privacy of every Internet user. We are notably concerned by the ability of executive authorities to issue orders to access to user data and restrict content, which seems to take place outside of any judicial oversight mechanism that would hold authorities accountable.”
“Ineffective procedural safeguards and oversight can only contribute to limiting opportunities for accountability which in turn can generate further human rights violations,” the UN Special Rapporteurs wrote in an eight-page-long letter.
“We understand the new Rules were issued under the Information Technology Act of 2000 and therefore, were not subject to parliamentary review or open for consultation with stakeholders. We believe such consultations with relevant stakeholders are essential in order to ensure the final text is compatible with India’s international legal obligations, in particular with Articles 17 and 19 of the ICCPR,” the letter said.
Several petitions have been filed in Indian High Courts to challenge the validity of the IT rules. Along with The Wire, The Quint has moved the Delhi High Court, challenging the regulations to be “unconstitutional” that is likely to have a “chilling effect on media freedom”.
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