US tech giants seek changes to India’s proposed new IT rules

Asia Internet Coalition warns new rules “negate” New Delhi’s commitment to ease of doing business

Asia Internet Coalition representing several US tech giants — Apple, Meta, Google, Amazon, Twitter and Spotify – has urged India to make a series of changes to the proposed amendments to its new IT rules.

The proposed amendments to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, “negate” the government’s commitment to ease of doing business, the group warned, Techcrunch reported.

India last month proposed a number of changes to the IT rules including creation of an appeals panel with the veto power to reverse content moderation decisions of social media firms.

Read: Web scraping: Meta suit triggers ethical debate (July 6, 2022)

In a submission to the Indian Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY), the group urged New Delhi to allow industry to adopt a self-regulatory grievance redressal mechanism as an alternative to grievance appellate committee.

“While the proposed amendments state that the intermediary must comply with the orders of the GAC [grievance appellate committee], there is neither any clarity on the extent of the GAC’s powers nor on the limitations in relation to such powers,” the group wrote.

“Thus, the proposed amendments do not contain adequate restrictions to prevent the GAC from acting as a judicial or quasi-judicial body with wide-ranging authority.”

“Given the changing needs of technology and users alike, an industry-led self-regulatory mechanism will enable businesses to adopt best practices and ensure long term solutions by identifying trends and gaps,” the group said.

US-India Business Council and US-India Strategic Partnership Forum, two lobby groups, have also expressed concerns about the proposed government panel, according to Reuters.

The Coalition also urged India to also hold users accountable for dissemination of certain types of content instead of scrutinizing the platform operators where those content are being communicated or transmitted.

Read: With Big Brother watching, what’s your choice now? (May 16, 2022)

The current rules require intermediaries to acknowledge complaints related to the blocking or removal of users’ accounts within 24 hours and disposed of in 15 days.

An amendment to it says that communication links associated with prohibited information must be acted upon within 72 hours of reporting. The industry body requested the Indian government to retain the pre-existing timeframe with respect to “all grievances.”

India, the world’s second largest internet market, is a key overseas region for most American tech giants, TechCrunch noted. Google and Facebook identify the South Asian nation as their largest market by users, whereas Amazon and Apple have invested billions in the country over the past decade as they search for their next big growth market.

“The law on the horizontal applicability of fundamental rights is limited and still evolving in India,” the coalition said asking the government “to reconsider imposing fundamental rights obligations through the proposed amendments on private entities acting as intermediaries.”
The group also requested the government to provide clarification on some of the proposed amendments. For instance, the government is seeking to require that intermediaries “respect” the rights guaranteed to Indian people by the Indian Constitution.

Read: Urgent need for stricter rules to ensure cyber security: India’s UN envoy (February 14, 2017)

“At present, there is no clarity on what ‘respecting’ fundamental rights entails,” it said. “By definition, fundamental rights are available against State or against instrumentality of State. Therefore, the question of an intermediary respecting rights accorded to citizens under the Constitution seems ambiguous.”

“We believe that delegating control of governing and administering fundamental rights to intermediaries, who are private entities, could usher in a culture of self-censorship and become a dangerous inhibitor of free expression,” the Coalition wrote.

“Neither does the Constitution of India place any duty on private entities to advance the fundamental rights of users nor are such fundamental rights enforceable against private entities,” it said.

“To the extent it is determined that a private entity is carrying out a ‘public function’ as per the tests established by the Courts of India, the aggrieved party’s option for redress is subject to the writ jurisdictional powers of the Courts,” the group said.

The coalition also told the government that a clause in the proposed rules imposes an obligation on intermediaries to compulsorily provide services to users.

“In other words, the intermediaries are being treated like public utilities which needs to be determined whether such an obligation can be imposed by way of rules,” it added.

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