Rules a result of its ‘Big Daddy’ syndrome, says Mr. Singhvi
The new intermediary rules under the IT (Information Technology) Act that make it mandatory for instant messaging platforms to identify the “originator” of messages, is draconian and impinges upon the privacy of citizens, the Congress has said.
The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, come into effect on Wednesday.
At a virtual press conference, senior Congress leader and Supreme Court lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi described the rules as “dire, drastic and draconian” in nature and a result of the “Big Daddy” syndrome of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government.
“The Modi government is the first to create a social media police and make the committee and the IT Ministry the principal police station for digital and social media platforms,” he said.
He pointed out that the Rule 4(2) of the intermediary rules introduced the requirement of traceability, which would break end to end encryption. “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,” he noted.
He claimed that the grounds for giving directions to trace the orginatory of a message had been kept “delightfully vague”. The rule allowed the ministry to give orders under the grounds of “sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, or public order.”
‘Bureaucrats will wield power’
The powers would be concentrated in the hands of bureaucrats of the ministry. Again, on the basis of the same vague grounds, the ministry could ask platforms to remove any content deemed objectionable. “Under clause 3(b) (i), any data may be commanded by the government to the platform to be removed on such utterly broad words: “belongs to another person and to which the user does not have any right”. Forwards of research or analysis on WhatsApp to groups could be stopped under this deliberately over-broad definition,” he stated.
The rules have been framed in such a way that they took away the protection offered by the parent Act too. “Any infraction of the rules would, under Rule 7, take away the protection given by the parent act [IT Act] under Section 79, which exempts the intermediary social media platforms from direct punishment,” he observed.
These rules, he said, ignored the safeguards and protections accorded to social media by the landmark Shreya Singhal case.
“Equally, the obsessive mindset of this government to act as control freaks for all and sundry, bent upon strangulating free speech, thought and expression, it has also thrown out of the window all principles of privacy elaborated in the famous Puttaswamy judgment of the Supreme Court by the nine-judge bench on 24.08.2017 ((2017) 10 SCC 1),” he added.