Government’s proposal to amend IT rules ‘blunt and disproportionate’, says Mozilla

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New Delhi | January 3, 2019 7:45 PM

Government's plan to change IT rules for social media and other platforms is a "blunt and disproportionate" fix to the problem of harmful online content and would lead to over-censorship, technology firm Mozilla has warned.

Mozilla said it recognises that harmful content online – from hate speech and misinformation to terrorist content – undermined the overall health of the internet and stifles its empowering potential.

Government’s plan to change IT rules for social media and other platforms is a “blunt and disproportionate” fix to the problem of harmful online content and would lead to over-censorship, technology firm Mozilla has warned. Mozilla, the not-for-profit entity behind web browser Firefox, which has been advocating data protection and privacy rights, has also argued that automated and machine-learning solutions should not be encouraged as a silver bullet to fight against harmful content on the internet.

It has also asserted that any regulatory intervention to this “complex issue” must be preceded by a wide ranging and participatory discussion process. “MeitY’s (Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology) proposals turn online companies into censors and undermine encryption,” Mozilla said in a statement on Thursday.

The comments come after the government last month disclosed plans to amend the IT rules wherein social media platforms and messaging apps will be required to deploy tools to “identify” and curb unlawful content as well as follow stricter due diligence practices.

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Some experts have cautioned that the planned amendments, that also mandate traceability of “unlawful content”, could invade personal privacy and free speech.

“The new rules proposed by MeitY are blunt and disproportionate solutions to the problem of harmful content online,” Mozilla said. It added: “They also propose a sharp blow to end-to-end encryption technologies, used to secure most popular messaging, banking, and e-commerce apps today, by requiring services to make available information about the creators or senders of content to government agencies for surveillance purposes”.

Mozilla said it recognises that harmful content online – from hate speech and misinformation to terrorist content – undermined the overall health of the internet and stifles its empowering potential. “However, regulation of speech online necessarily calls into play numerous fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Indian constitution,” the statement added.

This is a delicate and critical balance, and not the one that should be approached with hurried policy proposals, it said.

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Any proactive obligation on platforms to remove “unlawful” content will inevitably lead to over-censorship and chill free expression, it said and added that mandating services to decrypt encrypted data, weakens overall security and contradicts the principles of data minimisation.

The proposed changes, it alleged, are arbitrary and disproportionately harm smaller players.

“Disproportionate operational obligations, like mandatorily incorporating in India, are likely to spur market exit and deter market entry for small and medium enterprises,” it added.

Commenting on the issue, Amba Kak, Mozilla’s public policy advisor noted that “whittling down intermediary liability protection and undermining end-to-end encryption are blunt and disproportionate tools that fail to strike the right balance”.

Underlining the need to find ways for holding social media platforms to higher standards of responsibility, Kak said any regulatory intervention should be preceded by a wide ranging and participatory consultation process.

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