Sources: Social media platforms are preparing to fight radical new rules to remove "illegal" content within 24 hours, proposed by the Indian government at the end of last year


NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Global giants of social media and technology are gearing up to fight the radical new rules proposed by the Indian government that would force them to actively regulate the content of one of the biggest markets in the world. In the world, told Reuters sources close to the subject.

FILE PHOTO: The Facebook logo is presented at the Viva Tech start-up and technology summit in Paris, France, May 25, 2018. REUTERS / Charles Platiau / File Photo

The rules, proposed by the Ministry of Information Technology on Christmas Eve, would require platforms such as Facebook, its WhatsApp email service and Twitter, to remove illegal content, such as anything that could affect " the sovereignty and integrity of India ". It had to be done within 24 hours, according to the rules.

The proposal, which surprised many industry executives on vacation, is open to the public until January 31st. It will then be adopted as law, with or without modifications.

The decision comes before the national elections in India by May and amid rising concerns that activists could use social media, especially the WhatsApp messaging service, to spread false information and influence voters.

According to industry officials and civil rights activists, the rules are supposed to be censored and could be used by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to strengthen surveillance and dissuade opponents. Social media companies have long struggled against the efforts of governments around the world to hold them accountable for what users post on their platforms.

US and Indian lobby groups representing Facebook and other companies have asked law firms for legal advice on the impact of the federal proposal and have begun drafting objections to be filed with the ministry. of Information Technology, said four sources in the sector.

"Businesses can not stand this. We are all concerned, the way these platforms are governed is fundamental, "said a leader of a global social media company.

It is estimated that half a billion people in India have access to the Internet. Facebook has about 300 million users in the country and WhatsApp, more than 200 million. Tens of millions of Indians use Twitter.

The new rules, added the sources, would endanger the privacy of users and increase costs by imposing onerous monitoring of online content.

The Internet company Mozilla Corp said last week that the proposal was a "brutal and disproportionate" solution to the problem of harmful content online, which could lead to excessive censorship and "frank expression".

The Ministry of Informatics said the proposal was only aimed at making social media safer. "This is not an effort to restrict freedom of expression or to impose censorship," said Saturday's Gopalakrishnan S., deputy secretary of the Indian Ministry of Technology. information, during a #SaferSocialMedia campaign on Twitter.

Facebook and WhatsApp refused to comment.

A spokesman for Twitter said the company was continuing to dialogue with the Ministry of Information Technology and civil society about the proposed rules.

"It will look like a sword hanging on technology companies," said Nikhil Narendran, a technology law associate at Trilegal's Indian law firm.


These regulations are not unique to India. Vietnam has asked technology companies to open local offices and store data in their country, while the Australian Parliament has passed a bill to compel companies to give police access to encrypted data. In Germany, social media companies must remove illegal hate speech within 24 hours or incur fines.

Nevertheless, the proposal would weigh more heavily on relations between India and global technology companies. They have disagreed since last year with proposals from the federal government to store more user data locally to facilitate criminal investigations.

The new rules, called "intermediate directives", also propose to require companies of more than 5 million users in India to have a local office and a nodal manager for the "Coordination 24/7 with the forces of the order".

When invited by a government agency or a court order, companies must, within 24 hours, "remove or disable access" to "illegal" content, stipulate- they.

PHOTO FILE: The WhatsApp messaging app is visible on the phone screen on August 3, 2017. REUTERS / Thomas White / File Photo

The rules also require companies to reveal the origin of the message that, if it were applied, would strike a blow to WhatsApp, which boasts of end-to-end encryption to protect the confidentiality of users. WhatsApp has fought critics after fake messages about gangs of kidnappings on its platform have triggered lynching crowds in India last year.

"You've created a monster, you should have the ability to control it," said a senior government official, referring to WhatsApp.

"We remain flexible in principle (to suggestions), but we absolutely want them to be more responsible, especially large companies," said the manager.

Sankalp Phartiyal of Mumbai also reported on his work; Edited by Euan Rocha and Raju Gopalakrishnan

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