Sun. Jun 13th, 2021

On a day WhatsApp approached the Delhi High Court, challenging provisions in the new IT rules that would require messaging services to trace the origin of particular messages, the Congress hit out at the government, saying the new intermediary rules were “dire, drastic and draconian in nature” and argued the guidelines show the government is suffering from big daddy syndrome.

“The new rules are a severe blow to the vibrant culture of discourse, deliberation and dissent in India. What the Narendra Modi government seeks to implement today, without recall or modification and despite unanimous condemnation from all segments of civil and political society, is the government’s North Korean approach to free speech,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said.

The Congress too pointed out that the problematic clause in the guidelines is the direction to social media intermediaries to make provisions for “identification of the first originator of the information”.

The government, however, has maintained that platforms will be liable to disclose the originator of the message “only for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offense related to sovereignty and integrity of India”.

Singhvi said, “What is being brought into force from today is yet another attempt by the Modi government to capture and subordinate every pillar and agency of freedom of thought and expression.

“Dictatorial regimes, including the North Korean one, would blush at the brazenness with which the Modi government has done so,” he said.

The rule, which introduces the requirement of traceability, would break end-to-end encryption. Singhvi said, “It should be noted that even previous proposals which seek to implement traceability in a manner which is supposedly compatible with end to end encryption have been shown to be vulnerable to spoofing where bad actors can falsely modify the originator information to frame an innocent person.

“The grounds for such draconian directions have deliberately been kept delightfully vague, including Rule 4(2) which allows an order to be passed ‘for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, or public order…’ Under clause 3 (d), all platforms have to remove any content deemed objectionable by the application, not by any court, but by the ministry of such broad thresholds as quoted above,” he said.

Singhvi said another provision gives the government the power to ask social media platforms to remove any data that “belongs to another person and to which the user does not have any right”.

“For the last seven years, the definition of the ruling party and Government of such broad words, includes the mere registration of sedition offences, which in turn includes, in the new Orwellian definition of the Modi government, all criticisms of the PM or the HM, criticism of Covid-19 management, any questioning of authority, all attempts to show truth to power and so on. We can all imagine how these rules will be misused every day to terrorise social media,” he said.

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