India on Sunday dismissed criticism of the Centre’s new information technology and social media rules by three United Nations special rapporteurs. They had written to the Indian government on June 11 saying that the new rules do not conform with international human rights, according to The Times of India.
“We would like to recall that restrictions to freedom of expression must never be invoked as a justification for the muzzling of any advocacy of multiparty democracy, democratic tenets and human rights,” the rapporteurs had said in a letter. They had expressed “serious concerns” with certain parts of the legislation, and said that “diligence obligations” placed on intermediaries may lead to “infringement of a wide range of human rights”, the Mint reported.
The rapporteurs said that terms used in the rules like “racially or ethnically objectionable”, “threatens the unity...of India”, “written or published with the intent to mislead or harass a person”, were overly broad and could lead to arbitrary application of the regulations.
They asked the Indian government to carry out a detailed review of the rules and consult on them with all relevant stakeholders.
The letter is written by Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and Joseph Cannataci, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy.
In response, India’s permanent mission to the UN said that the rules were designed to “empower ordinary users” of social media.
“The concerns alleging potential implications for freedom of expression that the new IT rules will entail are highly misplaced,” the Indian mission said. “The enactment of these rules had become necessary following widespread concerns about increasing instances of abuse of social media and digital platforms.”
Social media companies and the Centre have been at loggerheads over the new Information Technology rules that were introduced in February and came to effect last month. The rules are a sweeping set of regulations framed to regulate social media companies, streaming and digital news content, virtually bringing them, for the first time, under the ambit of government supervision.
The rules require these platforms to appoint chief compliance officers, in order to make sure the rules are followed, nodal officers, to coordinate with law enforcement agencies, and grievance officers. It also requires social media platforms with over 50 lakh users to help in identifying the “originator” of messages upon the government’s request.
Referring to the rule mandating appointment of grievance officers, the Indian mission said prior to the new regulations, the users had no opportunity to file a complaint in case of any misuse or abuse of social media platforms.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, Union Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad once again criticised social media companies for their reluctance on complying with the new regulations, and said they should not “lecture” India on democracy and freedom of speech.