MeitY’s changes to intermediary liability rules could limit free expression rights: Wikimedia Foundation

MeitY’s changes to intermediary liability rules could limit free expression rights: Wikimedia Foundation
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The Wikimedia Foundation, the parent company of online encyclopedia Wikipedia, has expressed concerns on the proposed intermediary liability rules by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (meitY)  in a formal letter to the Indian government.  

The letter, written by the general counsel of the Wikimedia Foundation Amanda Keton, states that the proposed changes to the intermediary liability rules could “create a significant financial burden for non-profit technology organisations and have the potential to limit free expression rights for internet users across the country”.

The letter, which was addressed to Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who is currently in charge of the Ministry of Information Technology, also stated that the proposed changes in the rules would seriously impact Wikipedia’s open editing model.  

Wikimedia said that it was “deeply concerned” about the propositions made and included the hashtag #ForFreeKnowledge in the official statement on its website.  

Wikimedia said that the letter was published openly to raise concern and showcase the risks that the rules could have on promoting open and free knowledge dissemination across the globe. The website, a popular learning resource in India, had in fact sponsored a content creation contest in 2017-18 that saw more than 4,500 local-language articles being added to Indic language Wikipedia pages. 

Keton said that Wikimedia, a popular learning resource in India, was unhappy that even after a year of official consultation regarding the draft rules between the government and a few organisations, neither the participants nor the public have been able to get access to the reframed draft rules. 

The letter dated January 2019 was drafted jointly by Mozilla, Wikimedia and Github in response to the government’s request for feedback on the Bill.

“We encourage the ministry to release the current draft and ensure that there is a robust and informed debate about how the internet should be governed in India,” the letter said.

Keton said that Wikimedia remained concerned that the requirements in the Bill would hinder free access to knowledge in India, rather than support the cause.

The letter specifically mentioned that the requirement of automated filtering of user uploads of content could disrupt the availability and reliability of Wikipedia, as the encyclopedia relies on the community to edit and manage the content on the site.

Wikipedia works together in real time with individuals making large changes as well as contributors making minimal grammatical edits. “This collaborative system of people would be severely disrupted by obligatory filtering systems that monitor for and automatically remove illegal content across the website,” Keton said.

Wikimedia also said that some requirements of the Bill placed a material burden on the non-profits -- while it may be possible for larger companies to comply with local incorporation rules, it would not be feasible for a global nonprofit with limited resources to comply with local incorporation requirements.

“We fear that such burdens will consume vital resources that would otherwise be directed to providing access to knowledge and reliable, neutral information to Indian citizens,” the letter said. “We humbly ask that the ministry release a new draft of their proposed intermediary liability rules.”