The Congress on Wednesday criticised the central government’s new social media rules, which came into effect on May 25, calling them “dire, drastic and draconian”.
“The issuance of the new intermediary guidelines reflect the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] government’s syndrome, which is a ‘Big Daddy syndrome’,” Congress’ spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said at a virtual press briefing. “...You would make the North Korean model of control of the media blush.”
The Congress leader said that the Narendra Modi-led government was the first one “to create a social media police”, and added that that he powers would be concentrated in the hands of bureaucrats of ministries.
Singhvi said that the rules were an attempt by the government to “subordinate every pillar and agency of freedom of thought and expression”.
“We implore you [Narendra] Modi ji, we implore you BJP, one oxygen during Covid times you have diminished, please don’t do it to the oxygen of democracy...Please don’t strangulate it, please don’t asphyxiate it,” Singhvi 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 of messages sent on social media. Significantly, messaging platform WhatsApp moved the Delhi High Court on Wednesday, pointing out the same aspect of the rules
WhatsApp challenged a provision under the new rules, which mandates the company to identify the “first originator of information” when authorities demand it. In its plea, WhatsApp argued that the provision was unconstitutional and against people’s fundamental right to privacy. Later in the day, Electronics and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that no fundamental right, including the right to privacy, is absolute and added that it is subject to reasonable restrictions.
A sweeping set of rules were issued on February 25 to regulate social media companies, streaming and digital news content. The new rules will virtually bring these platforms, for the first time, under the ambit of government supervision.