Ebene Magazine – India’s Platform and Media Ethics Code


Binoy Kampmark |

Published: 00:00, Mar 09,2021

After HAVING caused a stir last month with the excitement over the Australian negotiating code for the news media, Facebook and the digital giants in India are facing another stormy front. Moving here has nothing to do with income, it has to do with supposedly bad behavior. « We appreciate the proliferation of social media in India, » said Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s Minister for Electronics and Information Technology. “We want them to be more responsible and accountable.”

That responsibility and accountability is supposedly achieved through the Information Technology Rules (Intermediate Guidelines and Code of Ethics for Digital Media) of 2021. They are part of a program that has been incubated for several years. An IT industry advisor who advised the government gave Wired his opinion in 2018. « The message from the government is: If you want to do business in India, do so on our terms and conditions or you can leave. » was more shy. It was « always made like Apple, like Facebook, like Amazon ».

Behind such rules is a gross, selfish interest in the work. The main task of social media is to exchange information. Governments tend to be content with material that they can refine, curate, and control on such platforms. If there is material on the platforms that questions the official version, stirs the blood of the citizens or encourages wrong rules, problems arise.

To justify this, the Indian government has resorted to marketing moral indignation . In the past few years, fake news has become a favorite with the zeitgeist driving the regulatory truck. In 2017 and 2018, over 40 deaths from mob violence are believed to be due to widespread disinformation. On July 1, 2018, five men, all members of the hikers of Nath Panthi Davari Gosavi, were beaten to death in the hamlet of Rainpada. They were the victims of an angry mob enraged by rumors on WhatsApp that the area was littered with opportunistic child kidnappers.

The Indian authorities have duly asked WhatsApp to help deal with the « irresponsible and explosive news » on their platform to stop. Some measures have been taken. The number of strikers was limited to five each. These messages were also tagged with a « forwarded » tag. This has done little to pacify government officials.

The scope of the proposed changes is by no means negligible. The draft IT rules target the over-the-top media services responsible for content in retail outlets such as Amazon, Netflix and Prime, as well as on news media platforms. Applicable passages include « Breaking News and Topical Content Editor »; “Brokers who primarily enable the delivery of news and current content” and “Publishers of online curated content”. Finally, it includes “intermediaries who primarily enable the transmission of online curated content”.

The regulatory framework will include three levels: self-regulation by the company itself, self-regulation by “self-regulatory bodies of the companies concerned” and a “supervisory mechanism by the Central government « . The creation of « Chief Compliance Officers » by the companies are designated as « node » persons responsible for 24 hour coordination with law enforcement agencies and officials to ensure that their instructions or requirements are in accordance with the provisions of the law or the rules contained therein are observed. « Resident Grievance Officers must be appointed as well.

The introduction of this additional level of regulation will be a form of bureaucratic strangulation, with the surveillance mechanism open to censoring content in ways that are beyond the current powers of the department for Information and broadcasting go beyond regulating television.

The Internet Freedom Foundation views the mechanism as a disaster in waiting, violating citizens’ digital rights, causing economic damage « and will also adversely affect the growth India’s cultural influence through the production of modern and contemporary video formats. ”According to the government code, 17 over-the-top platforms have already developed“ self-regulatory toolkits ”that take the risk of adopting the spirit of self-censorship.

The recording of news media in the code goes beyond the scope of application scope of applicable legislation and may go beyond the Safe Harbor Protection for Intermediate Platforms set out in Section 79 of the Information Technology Act. This section exempts intermediaries hosting material from liability provided they adhere to various set guidelines. The current draft regulation bypasses due process and parliamentary scrutiny through regulation. Media would also be censored if the government read the definition of “publisher of news and current affairs” in full.

Prasad doesn’t just want social media channels to be careful monitors and, if necessary, censors. He understands that such digital platforms help identify culprits who may be behind the dissemination of information and who are the target of law enforcement. « We don’t want to know the content, but companies need to be able to identify who was the first person to start spreading misinformation or other objectionable content. »

Sub-rule (2) of rule 5 suggests to do so, stating that the authoritative social media intermediary primarily responsible for providing intelligence services should enable the identification of the primary originator of the information on his computer resource as required by a court order issued by Has been issued by a competent court or authority in accordance with the law.

The unacceptable content officials are thinking of is detailed in a government publication. The offensive material would be the kind relating to Indian sovereignty and integrity, state security, friendly relations with states, public order, or incitement to a crime related to the above or regarding rape, sexually explicit material, or Material related to child sexual abuse may be punished with imprisonment of at least five years ”. Prosecutors will have a lot to play.

Breaking the resistance of companies like WhatsApp to traceability requests has been a central goal of the Modi government, although such proposals have been dismissed as ineffective in actually achieving their stated purpose. You are not the only one. End-to-end encryption is viewed by states as a concealment technique that is ripe for abuse. This is always a common way of curbing digital sovereignty. Countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia dream of creating backdoors to content. It is precisely this issue that is currently being examined by the Indian Supreme Court in the case of Antony Clement v Union of India.

The emerging trend is that such a directive, while it may not achieve its stated aim, will be harmful in other ways, since weakening encryption or key escrow systems through the back door would violate privacy and security. In view of the fact that encryption serves as protection for data aggregation in the current digital environment and at the same time prevents attacks on identity theft and code injection, the draft rules seem threatening.

Manoj Prabhakaran, professor of computer science and engineering at ITT Bombay, suggests suggest that states should do the opposite. In a report submitted in the Antony Clement case, he urged government agencies to “promote strong encryption and anonymity. National laws should recognize that individuals are free to protect the privacy of their digital communications through the use of encryption technologies and tools that enable online anonymity. “

While the behavior of digital platforms is egregious for their operational reasons, not least for their tendency to monetize privacy and exploit predictive behavior, the government’s scapegoat is a minor distraction. The Modi government’s agenda is moral rigor, surveillance and surveillance of recalcitrant citizens. This is the theme of breaking open the doors of encryption and at the same time encouraging social media giants to regulate themselves in censorship.

DissidentVoice.org, February 28th. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He teaches at RMIT University in Melbourne.

Editor: Nurul Kabir, edited by Editor-in-Chief ASM Shahidullah Khan
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