Can social media platforms work on their own terms in India? Legal experts, activists respond
Amid the ongoing controversy over and failure to comply with the new IT rules introduced by the Indian government, questions arise over the liability of social media companies as well as the freedom of expression of users. While it is eminent to defend citizens’ right to free speech, does the responsibility lie with social media companies to regulate how their platforms are used?
According to Supreme Court attorney NS Nappinai and founder of Cyber Saathi, Indian law does not give social media companies a pass to operate on their own terms.
Participating in a lively discussion with Anand Ranganathan on “The Social Media Summit 2021,” Nappinai said intermediaries often assume that due to Safe Harbor Law, social media companies have their hands free. But that’s not how the law works, she said.
“Buck stops with the platforms, with a detour”
“Whenever we talk about intermediaries, the first thing that comes to mind is the Safe Harbor law that benefits social media platforms. Therefore, there is an automatic presumption that there is no their responsibility. But it is not. ”
“In law, the ‘Safe Harbor’ exemption comes with a lot of conditions. Therefore, the money or the liability may slip away from the social media platform, but ultimately come back to the place of liability,” explained the lawyer.
She said the responsibility of social media companies is to balance freedom of speech and ensure sovereign rights while regulating compliance with the law.
On the other hand, Lizzie O’Shea, digital rights activist and human rights lawyer, sees social media platforms as a place to facilitate public discussion and dissent. Advocating against “excessive censorship of social media content, Lizzie raised concerns about the Indian government’s new computer laws.
“Social media platforms are some of the most powerful businesses in the world and struggling with how to regulate them is something many countries are doing. I think they need to be regulated, but speaking from a citizens’ rights perspective, I don’t think regulation should support censorship and turn these platforms into places of oppression, “the activist told Anand Ranganathan at the Social Media Summit.
She added that any regulations must ensure that user privacy is protected and that large amounts of user data held in companies is not passed on to governments.
“Need to protect journalists and activists from surveillance and identity research”
Lizzie O’Shea also said the new IT rules allow intermediaries to prevent users from facilitating discussions and holding those in power to account. She said that certain categories of people such as journalists and human rights defenders should have the right to converse without being watched or without their identity being searched.
“I am very concerned about the new laws that were passed in February that encouraged social media platforms to preemptively overcensor content and prevent dissent from emerging. I think they impose too much power on companies to Social media to obstruct users make it easier to discuss and hold those in power to account.
It’s very problematic if we create an environment in which social media platforms contain a huge amount of data that can be used by law enforcement as a monitoring tool. It is very important to protect the rights of individuals of different categories such as journalists, human rights defenders, to have the right to converse without being watched or without their identity being found, ”said the activist and writer.
So, should these overriding powers of laws imposed by a sovereign government be accepted by foreign companies? Senior government adviser Kanchan Gupta says ‘Yes’. Citing the example of laws imposed by the Chinese, Gupta said that just like any foreign company that seeks to set up a business in China, is obligated to comply with their rules, so the company should comply with Indian laws.
“Should we accept the superior powers of sovereign laws? Yes, we must and we should. In addition, the Indian Constitution does not provide for freedom of expression, it grants rights to freedom of expression, ”said Kanchan Gupta, Senior Advisor, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting India.