Internet firms ask for consultation on final intermediary guidelines

Internet firms ask for consultation on final intermediary guidelines
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8 Jan, 2020

As the date for notifying intermediary liability amendments nears, global internet firms Mozilla, GitHub and Cloudflare have written to Union minister of electronics and information technology Ravi Shankar Prasad to hold a public consultation on the final version of the draft.

The letter from the group of companies dated January 7 highlights concerns around traceability of messages, overt censorship, mandatory local incorporation of any company with more than 5 million users in the country and the broad definition of an ‘intermediary’ itself.

“It has now been almost a year since the public last saw a draft of these rules, which have the potential to fundamentally reshape the way the internet will work in India. Given your government's commitment to the Supreme Court of India to notify these rules by January 15, 2020, it is vital that the public has the opportunity to see a final version of these amendments…,” said the letter.

A week ago, the Wikimedia Foundation -- the parent entity of Wikipedia -- had written to MeitY (the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology), stating the financial burden that the draft intermediary rules will put on not-for-profit technology companies. It stated that the proposed changes will impact Wikipedia’s open-editing model.

In an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court in October 2019, MeitY had stated that the government would notify the new intermediary rules by January 15, 2020. This was in relation to a case on traceability of Facebook and WhatsApp messages, where the Union government was made a party to the proceedings. Social media platforms are considered ‘intermediaries’ under the Information Technology Act.

The government had issued draft Intermediary Guidelines (Amendment) Rules on December 24, 2018. MeitY told the apex court in its October submission that it had received 171 responses from stakeholders after the initial rounds of consultation. However, no new draft has been updated in the public domain since.