IT Amendments 2023 - Need to Worry ?

The recent notification by Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology(MeitY) propose to prohibit false/fake information and also regulate online gaming. Seems good, right? In this current age ,where the online platforms are flooded with fake news and misinformation , this decision from the government seems very harmless and ensuring protection to the public . Then, Why is all the fuss about? Why is  so much confusion in the air? Why does FSMK oppose IT Amendments 2023? Read more to know..

Q1: What is IT Amendments 2023?

The Union Government, on April 6, 2023, promulgated certain amendments to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, a piece of delegated legislation under the Information Technology Act, 2000.Through these amendments,  social media intermediaries or SMI (such as Twitter, Facebook, etc.) are now obligated under Rule 3(1)(b)(v) of the IT Rules to inform their users, through internal rules, regulations and other policies, to not ‘host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, store, update or share any information’ which is ‘identified as fake or false or misleading by a "Fact check unit of the Central Government’ in respect of ‘any business of’ the Union government.

Q2: What are the concerns?

No clear Definition on "Fake News" or " Misleading Information".

The IT rules 2023 don't specify what qualifies as false or misleading information or the qualifications or procedures of "Fact-Check Unit". The use of undefined words, especially the phrase "any business" gives the government unchecked power to decide what people can view on the internet.

Who decides the TRUTH?

Intermediaries will have to remove information/content  in any form (online news,      tweets, posts, pictures, videos) which is deemed false by the fact check unit leaving only the state to determine what is Truth, what is Fake and what news should be read by the public. This gives Fact Check Unit limitless powers to decide what information has to be passed to the public and compel SMIs to act based on their findings.

Violates Freedom of Speech.

The new regulations threaten freedom of speech - Article 19(1) (a) and civil liberties by restricting speech through executive order rather than legislation. The rights of the Press and individuals to question the authority will be diminished. This amendment also violates the Supreme Court's judgement on Shreya Singhal vs Union of India(2015) case wherein SC held that " a law that limits speech can neither be vague nor over-broad".

The discretionary power  of Intermediaries can violate Fundamental Rights.

Social Media Intermediaries  like Facebook, Twitter may lose safe harbour protection and they will be liable for third-party content. As per the Amendment, the intermediaries must make " reasonable efforts to cause" users not to create, upload or share prohibited content .This will lead to intermediaries using their own discretion in self-regulating  the content being published in these platforms which could affect freedom of speech and expression.

 Q3: How does it affect my privacy?

As per the amendments, the social media intermediaries (SMIs) like Facebook, twitter are required to enable the identification of the first originator of the information on its platform which the authorities identify as fake. This could be  a blow to user's privacy who also makes use of messaging services provided by these SMIs.

 Q4: Will it affect Journalism?

Yes.  Most of the information and news are now fed through online platforms and the amendments can enforce  a new form of censorship and government control over Press and Information flow.

Q5: Does it affect common people like me?

Yes! It does!!

For example, you go to use a public toilet built under some "X" Central Government Scheme only to find out that the toilet is dysfunctional and doesn't have consistent water supply. You are obviously disappointed and puts up a tweet saying " Where is all the tax payers' money going? "X" Central government scheme is such a  scam that toilets in the city don't have consistent water supply.  Shame on the System!!" This seems  like a simple tweet by a commoner irritated by a real incident . Let us assume, for a moment that Opposition parties point this out during an election time which prompts the government for a fact check. Obviously its the government's Fact Checking Unit- If the fact Checking agency findings conclude this as a  wrong information (since according to its data , all toilets built under this scheme has consistent water supply) , ministry can flag this tweet as misleading. Twitter could block your tweet or temporarily deactivate your account . Here you had to go through a very disappointing incident , you are deprived of the right to speak about it and could face legal issues too.

Q6: What is FSMK's take on IT Amendment Rules 2023?

This amendment monopolizes the decision making power on which information is to be passed among the public - which raises the questions of transparency and accountability . Since the government will be now able to intrude into what can be said about it and what cannot be in an unprecedented manner, this could also hold serious implications to the citizens' Freedom of speech.

Fake news and misinformation definitely threaten the very structure of democracy and they flare up communal tensions across the world. But is this the right way to tackle this? Fair measures are important but FSMK strongly condemn the latest means of controlling information flow which will unarguably cause injury to digital rights as well as right to speech of every Indian citizen.

KFON: Empowerment of the Commoner - The Story beyond Connectivity