The Congress on Saturday said that the new social media rules announced by the Centre last week were “non-statutory” guidelines that the government was attempting to bring without the Parliament’s assent, PTI reported.
Speaking at a press conference, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said that while social media cannot be left unregulated, no attempts should be made to control it through non-statutory rules and executive orders. He said the new rules could give vast powers to bureaucrats which could be misused.
“Humongous, vast powers have been granted without statute, without parliamentary assent, without parliamentary scrutiny,” Singhvi said.
On February 25, the government issued the new set of sweeping rules to regulate social media companies, streaming and digital news content that will virtually bring these platforms, for the first time, under the ambit of government supervision.
Singhvi also pointed out that the government has issued the guidelines by exercising its general powers under the Information Technology Act, but no laws were created for OTT platforms or for other social media platforms.
He added that the rules will allow a bureaucrat to decide on the question of national security before arresting someone. He raised questions on whether such arrests made in last five years were on genuine grounds of national security. “So, I would say that it is extremely dangerous for free speech, for creativity, unless extreme restraint is exercised, and unfortunately, I do not find any restraint in this sarkar (government) in any sector,” he said.
The Congress leader also questioned the government on introducing the new set of laws despite keeping the Data Protection Act pending for four years.
Last week, the Internet Freedom Foundation had said that the new rules could likely mean “government oversight and more censorship”. Meanwhile, DigiPub, an 11-member digital-only news association, has written to the Centre suggesting that the rules seem to “go against the fundamental principle of news and its role in a democracy”.