India has announced sweeping rules that could force social media companies to break into encrypted posts and remove posts New Delhi deems contentious.
Government officials said Thursday that the new guidelines would help end “double standards” by making the platforms more accountable under the law.
The rules, which apply to almost everything online, follow a government dead end with Twitter earlier this month after refusing to block accounts tweeting about the widespread farmer protests.
“We want them to be more responsible, more responsible,” IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said in New Delhi, “if they [won’t], all the provisions contained in the law will follow their course. “
Prasad described the rules as “soft oversight” and called on companies to “self-regulate”.
The new rules require companies to remove offensive content that threatens “India’s unity, integrity, defense, security or sovereignty” or “causes incitement” within 36 hours of an order, according to a copy of the bill seen by Financial Times.
Companies must appoint a chief compliance officer, create a law enforcement coordination position, and another for a grievance officer, all of whom must be Indian residents.
The rule change may also require businesses to break into encrypted messages in order to identify the “first sender” of information to help “prevent, detect, investigate, prosecute or sanction of an offense ”.
Prasanth Sugathan, legal director of the Software Freedom Law Center in India, said the new rules were “problematic” and had major privacy implications.
“Certainly, there can be no compromise on communications security,” Sugathan said. “This will open up a lot of legal challenges.”
The rules come as New Delhi tries to reset its relationship with Big Tech. India, with a young, fast-connecting population of 1.4 billion people, represents one of the most promising growth markets for tech companies beyond the United States and China.
But navigating New Delhi’s increasingly authoritarian politics and changing regulations is an obstacle for social media companies, which are trying to thrive while maintaining freedom of speech and privacy.
WhatsApp, Twitter, Amazon and Netflix declined to comment on the new rules.
“It equates to surveillance,” said a person close to a large US tech company operating in India. “It certainly raises questions about privacy, now you literally don’t have a place to have a private conversation.”
Under the new rules, streaming platforms such as Netflix and digital media, including news agencies, will come under increased scrutiny.
Netflix and Amazon have come under intense scrutiny in India, with police in states led by Modi Bharatiya Janata’s Hindu nationalist party filing criminal charges against leaders for “attacking religious sentiments.”
Salman Waris, a partner at tech law firm TechLegis, said the new rules created “additional burden” on companies facing a number of “compliance issues.”
He said the rules needed to be clarified as they did not give details or details on the implementation. “It could lead to a lot of confusion,” he said, “I think they will need to provide some clarification and I’m sure the industry will ask for that.