Centre for Internet & Society

The Global Network Initiative and the Internet and Mobile Association of India have come together to explain how India’s Internet and technology laws impact economic innovation and freedom of expression.

The Global Network Initiative (GNI), and the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) have launched an interactive slide show exploring the impact of existing Internet laws on users and businesses in India. The slide show created by Newsbound, and to which Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) has contributed its comments—explain the existing legislative mechanisms prevalent in India, map the challenges of the regulatory environment and highlight areas where such mechanisms can be strengthened.

Foregrounding the difficulties of content regulation, the slides are aimed at informing users and the public of the constraints of current legal mechanisms in place, including safe harbour and take down and notice provisions. Highlighting Section 79(3) and the Intermediary Liability Rules issued in 2011, the slide show identifies some of the challenges faced by Internet platforms, such as the broad interpretation of the legislation by the executive branch.

Challenges governing Internet platforms highlighted in the slide show include uniform Terms of Service that do not consider the type of service being provided by the platform, uncertain requirements for taking down content and compliance obligations related to information disclosure. Further the issues of over compliance and misuse of the legal notice and take down system introduced under Section 79 of the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules 2011.

The Rules were created with the purpose of providing guidelines for the ‘post-publication redressal mechanism expression as envisioned in the Constitution of India'. However, since their introduction, the Rules have been criticised extensively, by both the national and the international media on account of not conforming to principles of natural justice and freedom of expression. Critics have pointed out that by not recognising the different functions performed by the different intermediaries and by not providing safeguards against misuse of such mechanism for suppressing legitimate expression, the Rules have a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

Under the current Rules, the third party provider/creator of information is not given a chance to be heard by the intermediary, nor is there a requirement to give a reasoned decision by the intermediary to the creator whose content has been taken down. The take down procedure also, does not have any provisions for restoring the removed information, such as providing a counter notice filing mechanism or appealing to a higher authority.  Further, the content criteria for removal of content includes terms like 'disparaging' and 'objectionable', which are not defined and prima facie seem to be beyond the reasonable restrictions envisioned by the Constitution of India. With uncertainty in content criteria and no safeguards to prevent abuse complainant may send frivolous complaints and suppress legitimate expressions without any fear of repercussions.

Most importantly, the redressal mechanism under the Rules shifts the burden of censorship, previously, the exclusive domain of the judiciary or the executive, and makes it the responsibility of private intermediaries. Often, private intermediaries, do not have sufficient legal resources to subjectively determine the legitimacy of a legal claim, resulting in over compliance to limit liability. The slide show cites  the 2011 CIS research carried out by Rishabh Dara to determine whether the Rules lead to a chilling effect on online free expression, towards highlighting the issue of over compliance and self censorship.

The initiative is timely, given the change of guard in India, and stresses, not only the economic impact of fixing the Internet legal framework, but also the larger impact on users rights and freedom of expression. The initiative calls for a legal environment for the Internet that enables innovation, protects the rights of users, and provides clear rules and regulations for businesses large and small.

See the slideshow here: How India’s Internet Laws Can Help Propel the Country Forward

Other GNI reports and resources:

Closing the Gap: Indian Online Intermediaries and a Liability System Not Yet Fit for Purpose

Strengthening Protections for Online Platforms Could Add Billions to India’s GDP

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