By Aaron Kesel
All over the world governments are now threatening to monitor social media users’ posts online. Now, India is joining the effort with a new law expected to go into effect later this month that threatens Indian users’ privacy.
Social media companies will have to reveal users’ identities if Indian government agencies request their data, according to the country’s controversial new rules for social media companies and messaging apps with 5 million active users, which is expected to be published later this month, Bloomberg reported.
The new rules would signal blanket cooperation with Indian government inquiries, and would not require a warrant or judicial order. Further, if the law goes into effect, social media companies would be required to trace the origins of a post within 72 hours of a request. It isn’t clear if foreign users would be subjected to this treatment or how such actions would be handled in other countries.
Which, if this author is being honest, it may not be as easy as the Indian government thinks it is to trace users, given the existence of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). In fact, we may see the sale of VPNs like Private Internet Access skyrocket in India alone.
Tech companies like Facebook’s WhatsApp have expressed they will not comply with such requests, saying it threatens their users’ privacy and security.
WhatsApp will “not compromise on security because that would make people less safe,” the company said in a statement, adding its global user base had reached over 2 billion. “For even more protection, we work with top security experts, employ industry leading technology to stop misuse as well as provide controls and ways to report issues — without sacrificing privacy.”
Other tech company executives, from Mozilla Corp., GitHub Inc. and Cloudflare Inc. opposed the rules, writing in an open letter to India’s IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad that the guidelines could lead to “automated censorship” and increased surveillance. In order to be able to trace the originator of content, platforms would basically be required to surveil their users, undermine encryption, and harm the fundamental right to privacy of Indian users, they said.
India isn’t the only country that is now seeking to surveil their internet users. The UK just this week announced Ofcom, an existing communications watchdog, is its pick for enforcing rules around “harmful speech” on social media platforms. This comes after the UK last year established the world’s first independent regulator to keep social media companies in check.
The agency which will now be headed by Ofcom will be designed to make the Internet a safer place. The new regulation firm was jointly announced by the Home Office and Department of Culture, Media and Sport. The government white paper, titled Online Harms, published in the UK, outlines “plans for a world-leading package of online safety measures.”
“The White Paper proposes establishing in law a new duty of care towards users, which will be overseen by an independent regulator. Companies will be held to account for tackling a comprehensive set of online harms, ranging from illegal activity and content to behaviors which are harmful but not necessarily illegal,” the release reads.
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All social media companies, file-hosting sites, online forums, messaging services, and search engines will be required to tackle the following issues:
- Incitement of violence and the spread of violent (including terrorist) content
- Encouragement of self-harm or suicide
- The spread of disinformation and fake news
- Children’s access to inappropriate material
- Child exploitation and abuse content
However, according to TechCrunch, Ofcom will not be investigating or adjudicating on “individual complaints” like that of the India organization.
“The new regulatory framework will instead require companies, where relevant, to explicitly state what content and behaviour they deem to be acceptable on their sites and enforce this consistently and transparently. All companies in scope will need to ensure a higher level of protection for children, and take reasonable steps to protect them from inappropriate or harmful content,” it writes.
Companies will be able to decide what type of legal content or behaviour is acceptable on their services, but must take reasonable steps to protect children from harm. They will need to set this out in clear and accessible terms and conditions and enforce these effectively, consistently and transparently. The proposed approach will improve transparency for users about which content is and is not acceptable on different platforms, and will enhance users’ ability to challenge removal of content where this occurs.
Another requirement will be that companies have “effective and proportionate user redress mechanisms” — enabling users to report harmful content and challenge content take-down “where necessary.”
“This will give users clearer, more effective and more accessible avenues to question content takedown, which is an important safeguard for the right to freedom of expression,” the government suggests, adding that: “These processes will need to be transparent, in line with terms and conditions, and consistently applied.”
The U.S. also recently announced that the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command wants to get involved in policing social media for “threats.” The Pentagon has previously said it wants to police social media for fake stories and deep fakes, as Activist Post reported.
All over the world we are seeing a clampdown on users’ internet rights. Because of these new measures, combined with systems already in place, we are only one step away from the greater tyranny of the death of freedom of information.
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