India to ban WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter from May 26? Not likely, but it’s complicated
Three months ago, after some sort of Twitter challenge, the central government quickly released a new set of IT rules. These rules are broad, giving the government incredible power over any business that deals with information and content in India. Almost every internet business, whether it’s social media networks, messaging services, news organizations, or even streaming services like Netflix, all have to follow the new rules. The deadline for doing so, that is, for complying with the new rules, expires tonight. In other words, one more day and that means a big headache for companies like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.
However, first the big question: will Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp be banned in India from tomorrow, that is to say from May 26? Unlikely.
But if they don’t comply with the new rules, they will always run the risk of significant government action against them.
To understand all of this, let’s first take a quick look at what the government is asking for.
There are a number of new conditions and regulatory requirements that the government is seeking to impose on social media companies. But a few are important:
1- Big tech companies – what the government calls them “important social media” – must have a compliance officer in India who can respond to government requests and needs whenever needed. For example, if the government requires data from Twitter user A, and the request is legally valid, then that compliance officer will be responsible for producing that data.
2- Tech companies have also been urged to hire a nodal agent who will coordinate with law enforcement agencies 24/7 and whenever the government needs it.
3- Social media companies have been urged to hire a grievance officer, which social media users can address with their grievances if they have any.
4- And finally, companies like WhatsApp have been asked to ensure that they can trace a message back to the original sender. In fact, it means breaking or bypassing end-to-end encryption of messages. Complying with such a request is incredibly difficult, if not downright impossible, for a service like WhatsApp.
There are more rules, but most of them involve technological and policy changes that tech companies have been urged to implement. The 4 requirements mentioned above, however, are more important. When the government released the rules on February 25, it said businesses had three months to comply. This deadline has passed this evening.
The big question then is: what happens next? Will Netflix be banned in India? Will the government ask WhatsApp to leave the country and block the app in India? Will Twitter face legal action?
So far, most of the big tech companies have yet to comply with the new IT rules. Netflix, however, did. Some other streaming services have done this as well. Facebook, which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram, says that “we aim to comply with the provisions of the IT rules and continue to discuss some of the issues that require greater engagement with the government.”
But what if they don’t or can’t comply? The government did not say much, beyond making a vague statement in its rules. This is what he says:
“When an intermediary does not comply with these rules, the provisions of paragraph (1) of article 79 of the law are not applicable to this intermediary and the intermediary is liable to a sanction under any law currently in force. force, including the provisions of Indian law and penal code. “
What does it mean?
To find out, we need to understand what subsection (1) of Article 79 of the Information Technology Act is. Well, this clause of the information technology law protects social media companies and web services by making them “middlemen”. This means that they are not responsible for user content.
So what the government is saying here is that if a Twitter, Facebook, Google, WhatsApp, or any other social media company does not follow the new rules, it will lose the protection that “middlemen” get in the law. information technology. Once they lose this protection, they can then be taken to court and prosecuted under applicable laws.
In other words, like the new interim rules, the provisions for sanctioning non-compliance are also quite broad and opaque.
What does all of this mean for users?
Nothing good in the short term. Twitter, whether or not it manages to comply with the new rules tonight, will continue to operate in India tomorrow. Ditto with WhatsApp, Facebook, Netflix, Instagram or for that matter any other service.
But these services, if they don’t follow government rules, will only work until the government does not object.
If the government decides to act against them, the action is unlikely to block services. Instead, he’s likely to take other punitive action.
For example, the government can impose a fine. Or it can prevent these companies from doing business in India. When Turkey last year asked social media companies to appoint a similar type of compliance officer that India is also seeking, in the event of non-compliance, the Turkish government banned social media companies from broadcasting advertisements in Turkey.
In the long run, however, there could be several other implications for Indian internet users. In the long run, the rules can make services like Twitter and WhatsApp less private, giving users less anonymity and less security against surveillance.
But as for May 26, don’t worry: the tweets will continue to circulate tomorrow and the welcome messages from WhatsApp will continue to arrive.