The Centre on Monday announced that it will hold public consultations on draft rules that propose to make it mandatory for online platforms to help the government trace the origin of “unlawful content” whenever requested by authorities.

In a statement, the Union Ministry for Electronics and Information Technology said the government “intends to consult all stakeholders” and that the ministry “has commenced public consultation”, for which submissions must be sent by January 15, 2019.

The draft Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2018, will replace those notified in 2011 under the Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000. The new rules will reportedly make it compulsory for platforms to disable access to “unlawful” content within 24 hours of receiving a government or legal order. They also propose that such platforms be asked to use technology to proactively identify and block such content themselves.

The ministry said it has started consultations with various ministries, followed by social media platforms and messaging services such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo and WhatsApp. It will also consult bodies like the Internet and Mobile Association of India, Cellular Operators Association of India, and Internet Service Providers Association of India.

The ministry said law enforcement agencies now face new challenges due to “instances of misuse of social media by criminals and anti-national elements”, such as inducement to recruit terrorists, circulating obscene content, spreading disharmony, inciting violence, affecting public order, spreading fake news, among others. “A number of lynching incidents were reported in 2018 mostly alleged to be because of fake news/rumours being circulated through WhatsApp and other social media sites,” it said.

However, the government is “committed to the freedom of speech and expression and privacy of its citizens as enshrined in the Constitution” and “does not regulate content appearing on social network platform”, the statement said.

‘Government wants to become peeping Tom’

The Opposition Congress on Monday accused the Centre of “violating the privacy of people”, ANI reported. “The ultimate ambition of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the government is to become a peeping Tom and turn India into a nanny state,” party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said.

The new IT rules would lead to further intrusion of privacy, he said. “The BJP government will hold the keys to personal and professional data of all sections,” Singhvi said.