In Bid to Trace ‘Unlawful’ Words, Freedom of Speech under Threat

In an amendment to the IT Act, the government has proposed to break end-to-end encryption and get access to all user data online raising questions about freedom of speech online.

The New Leam Staff

Image credits : Creator:nevarpp

It has been reported that the Modi government will be planning an amendment of the guidelines surrounding online content and make it mandatory for all the online platforms to remove off content that is termed to be ‘unlawful’. It is being argued by many that if these changes are actually implemented in reality; it would lead to rampant denial of the freedom of speech across all online platforms.  

It is important to remember that the proposed draft of The Information Technology and Intermediate Guidelines Amendment Rules, 2018 wants to amend the provisions of Section 79 of the Information Technology Act.

The recommendations make it mandatory for online platforms to deploy technology based automated tools and other appropriate means for being enabled to acknowledge and identify unlawful content and information.  The draft also suggests that an online platform has to be open to allow government or institutions sanctioned by the government to access and remove content at will.

The online platforms have to enable tracing of all the information which they will be providing and all legal agencies that are sanctioned by the government will have the right to see their content. This will imply that all online platforms will have to end the process of end-to-end encryption and save information including WhatsApp messages.

Many activists feel that such a law will go against the freedom of expression online and will be threatening for the voice of dissent. They will result in pro-active censorship and break encryption with tractability.  It is argued that this may make the internet an encaged space and will damage the freedom of the users.

It is ironic that in spite of the fact that the internet was founded on the freedom and openness of ideas that could be shared throughout the world, today we are finding ourselves at a time when censorship of the internet is rampant. It is believed that throughout the world more than 60 countries have opted for proactive internet censorship.

The entire agenda of censorship has been to stop the dissemination of information and ensure that the public will not have access to content that may threaten the nation-state or lead to the rise of problems.

The game of censorship and enhanced surveillance in the domain of online content means that the state is willing to keep a tighter control over what gets published in the online sphere. This may lead to the curbing of the freedom of expression and bring about a void in the role played by online content in creating public opinion on significant themes.

Thus the proposed amendments to the rules of Section 79 of the IT Act will make it compulsory for online media to use technology to ferret ‘unlawful’ content may lead to a situation where the freedom of expression online may suffer a major jolt and invade the privacy of the users.

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