Quick Take

Regulate the Web, don’t wreck it with control

| Updated on October 22, 2019 Published on October 22, 2019

More than one global survey has exposed the abysmally low levels of data privacy in India

Internet’s fundamentals lie on free flow of information. Trying to micromanage it can hamper freedom of speech and democracy

Governments love control. And history is replete with examples of how that obsession has backfired. From commerce to communication, attempts for absolute control by regimes have stalled social progress at many a juncture in history. Which is why it gets a tad worrying when the Centre tells the Supreme Court that the internet can cause “unimaginable disruption to democratic polity” and hint at stricter controls on the Web. According to the IT ministry, the new Information Technology Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules, slated for release on January 15, 2020, would contain measures to control misuse of internet platforms.

The IT ministry says the regulations on social media intermediaries needs a revision considering the “ever-growing threats to individual rights and the nation’s integrity, sovereignty, and security.” The danger here is that these threats can be defined and interpreted according to the whims and fancies of the powers that be. From Turkey to Lebanon to the US to China, there are several examples of governments cracking down on internet freedom, citing such amoebic concerns.

It is also important to note that more than one global survey has exposed the abysmally low levels of data privacy in India. Just this week, a UK agency has revealed that India ranks third-lowest -- behind only Russia and China -- when it comes to prying into data usage of its citizens. On the privacy index of UK-based research firm Compritech India scored 2.4 out of 5, which meant “systemic failure to maintain (privacy) safeguards.” Juxtapose such scenarios with the Centre’s intent to place more controls on social media, the big picture that emerges is not really promising.

Evidently, the social media is used in the country as is elsewhere, to spread hate-speech, fake news and misinformation. A global debate is on whether the social media companies should be held responsible for the content they spread. At this juncture when societies are still benefiting from the free flow of information and communication technologies, the government is best advised to stay away from being surveillance fetish and introduce regulations that are on the lines of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), focusing more on individual privacy than on government control. If the Attorney General’s statement that Section 69 of the IT Act allows for decryption and “we cannot accept the stand of WhatsApp and Facebook that decryption (of messages) cannot be done” is an indication, India is moving in the wrong direction.

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Published on October 22, 2019
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