The Indian government has recently introduced theInformation Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital MediaEthics Code) Rules, 2021. Aimed at regulating the ever-growing social mediaplatforms, messaging services, OTT platforms and news portals, these rules onceIn effect will require some fundamental changes in the way many of theseplatforms operate. These rules will require compliance even by foreign techcompanies operating in India such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, Netflix etc.
One of the major changes introduced by theserules are making social media intermediaries more liable for “identification ofthe first originator of the information”.The minister of Electronicsand Information Technology, Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad said “Social mediaintermediaries, upon being asked either by the court or by a governmentauthority, will be required to disclose the first originator of the mischievoustweet or message, as the case may be”. The platform will be liable to disclosethe information “only for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation,prosecution or punishment of an offence related to sovereignty and integrity ofIndia, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, orpublic order”.
Many critics have expressed concern over theserules claiming they threaten Free expression and users’ privacy. One of thereasons for these concerns come from the fact that the rules requiretraceability of encrypted content like text, image and video files to theoriginal sender. Messaging platforms like WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram use end-to-endencryption which in layman’s terms mean that barring the sender and itsintended receiver, no third party will be able to see and modify the contentsof the message.
The new rules however require a message to betraced back to the origin to identify the original sender and creator of themessage. This will require changes to the way encryption works currently as ifrequired, the information about the sender will have to be made available tothe government body.
Something to think about
While all this is being said to be done to curb the spread of false information and “unlawful” content, it begs to question if this will weaken the current levels of security available on these platforms and leave the users even more vulnerable to other security threats like hackers and data leaks. Even with every social media giant boasting about the high levels of data security and privacy they offer, time and again we have witnessed multiple data leaks and misuse of information. Will the changes required by these rules leave users even more vulnerable to such threats? That’s something that remains to be seen.