Social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube will have to share users’ identities with the Indian government if they are asked to. Under new guidelines to be established later this month, the Centre will be able to procure information of any user without a warrant or judicial order against the person, a Bloomberg report said.


The decision comes at a time when countries around the world are exerting pressure on social media sites to be more accountable. In January, Britain raised concerns over the circulation of fake news, child porn, racist invective, and radicalized content. Unlike other countries, the new guidelines in India will ask for blanket cooperation with government inquiries.


According to a government official cited in the Bloomberg report, The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), a trade body that comprises members from Facebook, among others, raised concerns over the new rules. The Centre proposed the new reforms in 2018. IAMAI responded that the requirements “would be a violation of the right to privacy recognised by the Supreme Court.” However, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology will nevertheless bring forth the new reforms without much alterations made to the earlier proposal, the Bloomberg report added.


According to the guidelines noted in the earlier draft, all social media sites will have to help the government trace the origins of a post within 72 hours. The companies would have to retrieve the data for 180 days that will help government sleuths in the investigation.


The official stated that companies such as Mozilla and Wikipedia that serve as online repositories of information will not fall under the guidelines. Only social media platforms and messaging apps would be covered, the report further added.


The rules will cover all social media platforms and messaging apps with more than five million users. However, the Centre is yet to mention if foreign tourists will also come under scrutiny while visiting India.



Social media sites are now in a fix whether to cooperate with the law enforcement agencies or to support the right to privacy of their users.



Increase in the number of fake news items


Recently, India has seen a surge in the number of fake news items in circulation, especially on WhatsApp and Facebook.



In 2018, fake information that was circulated on WhatsApp led to the lynching of five men who were brutally beaten to death in Rainpada, Maharashtra. When the agencies asked WhatsApp to help them track the origin of the post, WhatsApp denied, citing its promise of end-to-end encryption. However, the messaging app offered to fund research into preventing the spread of fake news. WhatsApp also extended aid to the government with a public education campaign in India, its biggest global market.



Social media sites reluctant to share information


After getting to know of the government’s plan, WhatsApp, on Wednesday issued a statement citing that it will not compromise on security. It stated that this move will make people feel less safe to use WhatsApp. It further assured that the messaging app works closely with the top security experts to stop misuse of any kind. WhatsApp aims to achieve this without sacrificing privacy, Bloomberg reported.


Tech companies and civil rights groups see this as a threat, especially after the Pegasus case in which as many as 120 journalists and social-activists in India were snooped upon. The case was uncovered in September last year.