oppn parties The Law To Regulate Social Media Must Be Balanced And Have Clear Definition Of All Terms

News Snippets

  • In reply to a question in Parliament, the government says it is empowered to lawfully intercept, monitor or decrpyt information stored in a computer resource in the interest of sovereignty or integrity of India
  • Police stop a 12-year old girl on her way to the Sabarimala shrine
  • In Karnataka, the JD(S) indicates that it might support the BJP government if it falls short of numbers after the bypolls
  • Congress pips the BJP in local body elections in Rajasthan, winning 961 wards to the BJPs 737
  • After Airtel and Vodafone-Idea, Jio also indicates that tariffs will be raised from December
  • Sources in Shiv Sena say that they might revive the alliance with the BJP if it offers the 50:50 deal
  • A miffed Sanjay Rout of the Shiv Sena says that it will take "100 births" to understand Sharad Pawar
  • Mobile operators Vodafone-Idea and Airtel decide to raise tariffs from next month
  • Sharad Pawar meets Sonia Gandhi and says more time needed for government formation in Maharashtra
  • Justice S A Bobde sworn in as the 47th Chief Justice of India
  • Supreme Court holds hotels liable for theft of vehicle from their parking area if parked by valet, says "owner's risk" clause is not a shield from such liability
  • Finance Minister says she is receiving feedback from many sectors that recovery is happening as there is lower stress
  • Sabarimala temple opens, but police bar the entry of women below 50 years
  • Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman says Air India and BPCL to be sold off by March
  • Media person Rajat Sharma resigns as DDCA president
Two Muslim litigants in Ayodhya refuse to accept the Supreme Court order, say review petition might be filed
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The Law To Regulate Social Media Must Be Balanced And Have Clear Definition Of All Terms

By Sunil Garodia

About the Author

Sunil Garodia Editor-in-Chief of indiacommentary.com. Current Affairs analyst and political commentator. Writes for a number of publications.

Several questions pop up as the government seeks to regulate OTT platforms and wants unbridled access to communications made by private citizens over social media. Although the Supreme Court has transferred to itself all such cases pending in all courts in India, the questions are not only legal but social and moral too. 

The first question is that of privacy. Privacy of citizens has been recognized as a fundamental right by the Supreme Court and recently, the Bombay High Court has said that even tapping of telephones by the government is illegal. Private communication over social media is protected by end-to-end encryption. This means that only the sender and the receiver know what was written and what was read. Hence, if the government forces OTT platforms like WhatsApp to disclose these conversations, it would impinge on the privacy of citizens.

Governments the world over are displaying increasing intolerance towards dissent. Since social media over OTT platforms is the main tool where such messages are circulated, governments are seeking to regulate content over these platforms. Earlier, such regulation was attempted in the name of a threat to national security, disturbing the public peace or causing enmity between communities. But now, the threat to democracy has also been added to it. India, in fact, had a draconian law in Section 66A of the IT Act. Thankfully, it was struck down by the Supreme Court for being bad in law.

Any law enacted to regulate content over social media, apart from crushing the privacy of citizens, is sure to be so restrictive and ambiguously worded that it will be open to many interpretations. Obviously, it will lead to arbitrary decisions on part of the enforcing authorities. The government of the day will use it to stifle dissent and suppress views that do not match its own. In the past, one had seen people being prosecuted for forwarding memes and cartoons of political leaders.

Although no right-thinking person will support unrestricted or unregulated social media, a balance has to be struck between privacy, freedom of speech and national interests. Any law that is enacted will need to be crystal clear. It will need to define national security, enmity between communities, public peace and threat to democracy, among other things,  in unambiguous terms. It will need to set rules for prosecution in black and white, leaving no room for arbitrariness or highhandedness by the prosecuting agencies. To make such a law, the government must involve all stakeholders, including social activists and issue a draft after taking all suggestions into considerations. A government drafted law is more likely to kill social media.