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Govt Wants Facebook and WhatsApp to be Liable For Content Shared, Says Internet a Threat to Democratic Polity

Image for Representation

Image for Representation

In its affidavit, the government emphasised on the need to rehaul the mechanism on accountability of intermediaries and social media entities such as Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube.

New Delhi: The Central government has told the Supreme Court that the “internet has emerged as a potent tool to cause unimaginable disruption to the democratic polity," requiring effective regulation of the intermediaries.

In its affidavit, the government emphasised on the need to rehaul the mechanism on accountability of intermediaries and social media entities such as Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube. It favoured making intermediaries "more liable towards the content that is published, transmitted, etc on their platform.”

The affidavit by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology stated that the 2011 rules on intermediaries were up for revamp and wide-stake consultations have been made in the wake of necessity of the new rules.

It said that in the last few years there has been an enormous increase in the use of social media and with lower internet tariffs, availability of smart devices and last-mile connectivity, more and more people in India are becoming part of the internet/social media platforms.

"If on one hand, technology has led to economic growth and societal development, on the other hand, there has been an exponential rise in hate speech, fake news, public order, anti-national activities, defamatory postings and other unlawful activities using internet/social media platforms," said the government.

The affidavit said the 2011 rules need to be revised" for effective regulation of intermediaries keeping in view the ever-growing threats to individual rights and nation’s integrity, sovereignty, and security."

It listed out all steps taken since 2018, including the inter-ministerial consultations to seek views of other departments, like the ministries of home affairs, information and broadcasting, health and family welfare, women and child development and commerce, on the draft revised rules.

The government added that in view of the complexity involved in this matter and the significant impact it entails on the functioning of all stakeholders, including netizens, various government departments/ministries, social media platforms, messaging platforms, websites and mobile apps, a conscious and bonafide decision was taken to call for further inter-ministerial consultation so that effective, robust and comprehensive rules, covering all aspects of matter can be framed.

The government submitted in the court that given this background, "a further period of three months would be required for finalising and notifying the final revised rules in accordance with law."

It requested the bench, headed by Justice Deepak Gupta, to give the government three more months to formulate the new rules. The affidavit will be taken up for examination by the bench on Tuesday.

On September 27, the top court had underscored the need for up-to-date guidelines in this matter and had asked the government to indicate steps being taken on it.