India may force Facebook, WhatsApp to spot the originator of messages

New Delhi is moving closer to advising regulations that would require social media companies and instant messaging app providers working in India. The nation wants to support its law enforcement agencies spot users who have posted and circulated content (sent messages) that seems questionable, people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The local intermediary liability Rules

Later this month, India is going to submit the required change to the apex court. The conditions that are included in the suggested change may be altered before its finalization. Right now it states that agencies for law enforcement will have to present a court order before implementing such requests, according to sources who have been briefed on the matter.

However regardless, asking companies to obey such a requirement can turn out to be “devastating” for international social media companies, a policy advocate based in New Delhi told TechCrunch on the condition of anonymity.

WhatsApp executives have pointed out in the past that they would have to let go of end-to-end encryption of every user to fulfill such a demand, a move they are ready to fight over.

The government refused to respond to a request for comment on Tuesday evening. A WhatsApp spokesperson also refused to comment. Sources provided the information under the sore condition of anonymity as they are not permitted to speak to media.

In recent months, several companies and security professionals have asked New Delhi to be clear about the changes it planned to submit to the local intermediary liability guidelines.

The Indian government submitted (PDF) a chain of changes to its intermediary liability rules in late December 2018 that, if implemented, would need to make prominent changes millions of services offered by anyone, from small and medium firms to large corporate giants such as Facebook and Google.

Among the proposed rules, the government stated that intermediaries, which it explains as those functions or services that expedite communication between two or more users and have five million or more users in India, will have to, among other things, be able to track and spot the originator of ambiguous content to avoid guessing full responsibility for their users’ actions.

The “safe harbor” laws

The “safe harbor” laws are the core of the ‘proposed changes’ that other technology companies have so far savored in many nations. Currently, the laws applicable in the U.S. under the Communications Decency Act and India under the 2000 Information Technology Act, states that tech platforms won’t be blamed for the things their users share on the platform.

In recent months, many stakeholders have claimed that the Indian government was keeping them in the dark by not providing the changes it was intended to make to the intermediary liability guidelines.

Nobody besides a small government circle has known the proposed changes since January of last year, said Shashi Tharoor, one of India’s most influential politicians.

A digital advocacy organization based in New Delhi, Software Freedom and Law Centre, advised last week that the government should consider deleting the traceability requirement from the latest proposed changes to the law because “technically impossible to satisfy for many online intermediaries.”

“No country is demanding such a broad level of traceability as envisaged by the Draft Intermediaries Guidelines,” it added.

Hello, I’m Anna Yeo. If you like my news coverage, please drop a good word in my inbox. I’m journalist by profession and have been part of many major reporting across the globe. I like to write crisp and factual news. I have completed my masters degree in journalism. Feel free to contact me at [email protected]

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