Social media executives may face a penalty, jail under new guidelines

Social media executives may face a penalty, jail under new guidelines
Highlights

  • The government is all set to reinforce responsibility rules for social media apps like WhatsApp
  • The new guidelines should be published soon after the elections
  • The government wants all social media apps to comply with the new rules

NEW DELHI: The government is ready to reinforce responsibility rules for social networking applications like WhatsApp, with the next approaching intermediate guidelines will probably propose penalties and jail sentences for executives, especially on traceability and user consent before being added to the groups, told people with knowledge of the matter.

"The intermediary guidelines should be published shortly after the elections and we expect all social media applications to comply, with them. In the guidelines, we wrote that the encryption must be such that it should supports traceability", a government official told ET.

The applications have resisted government efforts to urge them to assist law enforcement agencies to trace the origin of inflammatory messages or those associated with forbidden activities like drug use or trafficking, the officers told.

"They have been deviating from the issue," said another senior official. "They say it's not that they do not want it, but technically they cannot, so once these guidelines are published, social media applications will be forced to redesign their processes to comply with the law of the land."

The new guidelines are considered to be the solution since multiple discussions with WhatsApp have not yielded results, the official said.

THE ENCRYPTION ARGUMENT

WhatsApp didn't respond to ET's emailed queries.

In previous responses, WhatsApp has highlighted its fact sheet on security in India, which states that it has made significant changes in products and has worked with civil society partners to address misinformation through public education campaigns, in addition to changes such as limiting the number of forwarded messages and permission to groups exits in a single touch.

Intermediate guidelines for internet companies and social networks such as WhatsApp and Facebook have become critical, as the government is trying to put an end to the false news and rumours that have fuelled the violence, including lynchings, in some parts of the country. The consultation process is over and MeiTY is working on the final rules. Officials do not agree with WhatsApp's view that traceability compromises end-to-end encryption. They consider that these are companies that provide information to law enforcement agencies about the origin of false messages or publications aimed at dividing society and provoking violence, among other things.

"They do not do it or they refuse to understand this, we do not want you to watch the video or the audio or the content, just tell us where (it commenced) or who initiated it," told the official mentioned above, drawing a parallel to the telecom companies, which are obliged to provide call detailed records (CDRs) to the police. The final intermediate guidelines, which will be more focused than the existing ones, will also address the need to obtain the users' permission before adding them to a group, as well as the issue of designating the grievance officers.

"It has been more than six months since the government asked WhatsApp to make sure that no one can add users to a group without explicit consent."Just because I have my mobile phone number, I should not be able to join the group without my consent," the official said. "It is possible that a malicious group has its number and that the group publishes some objectionable content, the police may also be behind you."

The Home Ministry asked social media companies in 2018 to appoint grievance redressal officers in India and develop a monitoring and filtering mechanism to verify the content. The recommendations which were drafted last year proposed that all intermediaries have to provide government agencies with any information related to cybersecurity, national security, investigations, prosecutions or the prevention of a crime within 72 hours. Internet and social media companies must also remove or deactivate content considered defamatory or against national security under Article 19 (2) within 24 hours after notification of the corresponding agency, in addition to using automated tools to identify, eliminate and trace the origin of such content.

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