The Asia Internet Coalition, a group of leading American tech companies that have a presence in Asia, including Google, Meta, and Apple, has issued a letter asking for changes to be made to the current draft of the IT Rules.
The coalition, on behalf of its members, warned that the proposed amendments will only add to the existing compliance burden for intermediaries and will “negate” the government’s commitment to ease of doing business.
What Have the Companies Recommended?
The group has made a set of recommendations to the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).
They are as follows:
Don't hold platforms accountable for content: Mandates prohibiting the dissemination of certain types of content should be imposed on the user, not the intermediary platform, since it is "ultimately the user who determines the nature of content to be communicated."
Allow self-regulated grievance redressal: Instead of putting together a Grievance Appellate Committee (which will be able to veto content moderation decisions made by social media companies), give the platforms six months to come up with their own grievance redressal mechanism.
Don't change timeframes: The proposed rules will shorten the timeline to act upon complaints related to the blocking or removal of users’ accounts. MeitY should maintain the pre-existing timeframes with respect to all grievances.
Don't impose fundamental rights obligations: The proposed amendments require that intermediaries ‘respect’ the rights guaranteed to Indian people by the Constitution. Since the law around this is vague and there is no clarity on what this entails, this requriement shouldn't be imposed on platforms.
Clarify rules: The government should provide clarification on what exactly amounts to a non-observance of rules, especially since just a single instance of non-compliance can lead to an intermediary losing 'safe harbour' protections under the IT Act.
Accountability vs Privacy
The MeitY said last year that the current IT rules, notified in February 2021, have succeeded in creating a new sense of accountability amongst Intermediaries to their users, especially within Big Tech platforms.
“However, as the digital ecosystem and connected Internet users in India expand, so do the challenges and problems faced by them, as well as some of the infirmities and gaps that exist in the current rule vis-a-vis Big Tech platform,” it added.
Intermediaries in the country have been resisting new orders from the Indian government for a while now, primarily on grounds of privacy.
Most recently, Twitter has sued the Indian government regarding orders from the government to block certain tweets and content on their site.
WhatsApp also sued the government regarding orders that would require them to make encrypted messages traceable, saying that this could set a precedent for “mass surveillance”.
These rules are seen as part of a growing trend of governments trying to control big tech in their borders. Indonesia this week got Meta and Twitter to abide by rules that gives the government more control over them.
(With inputs from Reuters)