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From Social To Anti-Social: New IT Rules, 2021 And The Privacy Debate

As George Orwell said, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” We have seen a phenomenal rise in the use of social media in past couple of decades. But the exponential rise of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp are proving to be a double-edged sword in the functioning of democracies. On one hand it has diversified the reach of political figures, their policies and agendas but on the other hand, it has also posed new challenges which are now directly impacting our democracies and the people.

The basic purpose of designing platforms like Twitter was to make individuals more sociable and demonstrative. It made the process of governance, decision making, and policy making more transparent and lucid. The lockdown as a consequence of the Covid-19 phase has proved that social media today is far more than just a mode of entertainment; it has evolved into an arena for trade and commerce activities. It has also upheld the basic criteria of transmission of information and it has accommodated a space for people to freely express their views as well as opinions.

According to the principles of Jurisprudence and Philosophy, the rights once brought forth for the enjoyment of public should never be taken back from them by the state. The new rules (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 to regulate social media, sparks a myriad of concerns over privacy. It is set to take back all the rights (digital rights) and privileges (digital privileges) from its users which they were entitled with so far.

Such rules are anti-democratic and will violate our privacy rights by establishing and evolving an entire social media control mechanism. The Rules, though stringent, will play a major role in evolving a social media control mechanism where the personal data of the users will be stored and analysed by the tech-giants. The widespread gathering of personal information by social media platforms in the absence of an online privacy law is strictly harmful for the privacy of Netizens.

Under the new IT Rules, 2021 laid down by the Ministry of Information and Technology, messaging platforms, which offer “end-to-end encryption” for greater privacy, have been asked to identify the ‘first originator’, which means identifying an internet user who starts sharing any type of mischievous information, which is a veiled attempt at state surveillance. Designing such tracking mechanisms in most of the circumstances can lead to a dangerous dead-ends as these mechanisms are not designed towards identifying the “actual originator” of the offending content. In all these circumstances, the best technology in the world can help you identify the “first forwarder” and not the “originator “.

This brings us to more severe problem with this system. Observing the manner in which the Indian criminal justice system functions, it’s entirely possible that a “first forwarder” and not an “originator”, could still be arrested or proceeded against under the relevant laws. Therefore, by the operation of the such a law and the limitations of such a technology, anyone willy-nilly could be declared as the originator of the message.

This experience of using internet should not be constitutionally scrutinized by the state to such extent that it infringes our rights to use social media freely. There is no doubt regarding the other objective behind the rolling out of this policy that it will help in restraining the rampant use of social media to abuse women, online frauds and the like, however, all these things can be brought into control by other means as well. We don’t need to put everyone under one umbrella where people’s ability to safely and freely express them on such platforms is impeded. It’s not morally right to impound everyone’s freedom in order to establish order in society. It spreads hate and gives birth to numerous societal problems like civil and racial discrimination.

There is also another rising concern on government asking social media platforms to rely on an underdeveloped technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) for censoring abusive content by relying on and collecting a massive amount of user data. As Henry Louis Gates Jr said, “Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice.” Artificial Intelligence tools for censorship will collect and examine large amount of user-generated content that will not in any possible way help to censor the data sought to be censored. The desired purpose will also be not fulfilled by such approach and it will also create censorship burden for businesses.

As India is not a surveillance state, there must not be any illegal or unconstitutional check on the right to privacy and freedom of speech and expression which are the fundamental rights of every citizen. These IT rules if implemented will attack on our civil liberties, and further erode our democracy.

In such anti-social times where it is difficult for us to meet our friends and family, social media is the only tool which is bridging the gap and easing off the burden to large extent for most of us. If our ability to freely and safely express ourselves on such platforms will be impeded, we will witness our own transformation from being social to anti-social.


Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Mahimna Dave
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Authentication No: JL118531179544-04-0721

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