Indian, foreign firms at odds over govt move to regulate internet content

Indian, foreign firms at odds over govt move to regulate internet content
Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Pixabay
6 Feb, 2019

A clear split is forming between Indian and foreign firms over how the government should regulate content over the internet. In the comments on the draft rules made public by the government, Indian companies have supported and hoped for the success of the norms, and even suggested further tightening, whereas their foreign counterparts have sharply criticised them as an example of costly overreach. 

The draft rules proposed by the Indian government require tech giants to actively regulate content in one of the world's biggest Internet markets. The rules, proposed by the Information Technology ministry on Christmas Eve, would compel platforms such as Facebook, its messaging service WhatsApp and Twitter to remove unlawful content, such as anything that affected the "sovereignty and integrity of India". This has to be done within a compressed time frame, the rules propose.

In its comments on the draft rules, Indian telecom company Reliance Jio said that firms with servers outside of India have not taken enough steps to prevent misuse of technology. Jio said, “Any protests (on violation of freedom of speech and expression by intermediaries related to requirement of technology/assistance on lawful order by the government) are without any basis and the government must ignore the same and address the need to prevent reckless abuse of such technologies and platforms.”

Jio also demanded that depending on the criticality of the case, firms should respond to government requests within 36 hours, as opposed to the 72-hour time frame mandated by the draft rules.

On the other hand, companies like cloud firm Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Chinese mobile maker Xiaomi are concerned that the draft rules be applied only to social media platforms and not e-commerce entities.

Xiaomi also pointed out that the need for automated tools for identifying and removing unlawful content can hobble small and medium firms. 

AWS, in its comments, said, “Certain amendments apply only to content-sharing platforms (including the need to be a registered entity in India if the number of users exceeds five million). Cloud service providers are a separate class and should not be subject to such requirements.”

IndiaTech, a consortium of Indian internet businesses including MakeMyTrip and Ola, proposed that firms providing goods and services through a digital platform in India be required to set up permanent establishments in the country. It recommended bringing firms with a user base of one million and above under the ambit of the draft rules, which currently apply to companies with a user base of five million and above.

The body’s comments proposed that “a firm registered in India should provide the services directly to its users, to ensure that the entity in India can be approached for any breaches and non- compliance.”

Infotech major Wipro, in its comments, recommended the establishment of an authority that can issue takedown notices to firms in case of objectionable content.

Yesterday, TechCircle had reported that global tech companies, civil society groups and academics have raised concerns over the Indian government’s draft rules to regulate internet content and even doubted the constitutional validity of some proposed norms.