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

News Snippets

  • PM Modi tells BJP workers that India is in for a long battle against the coronavirus and there is no scope to feel tired or defeated
  • PM Modi asks ministers to focus on exports and new areas and sectors
  • PM Modi asks ministers to prepare business continuity plan post the lifting of the lockdown
  • Corona cases in India cross 4000 and the death toll stands at 124
  • The government decides to double the testing of corona suspects from 10000 now to 20000 in the next three days
  • Flipkart assures employees that there will be no job or salary cuts due to the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Although it was obvious, but the government still clarifies that there is no need to switch off appliances and only lights need to be switched off on April 5 at 9pm after confusion in the minds of some people
  • PM Modi and President Trump decide "to deploy full strength of (Indo-US) partnership" to fight against COVID-19
  • 17 states have reported 1023 cases of coronavirus linked to the Tablighi Jamaat, which translates to 30% of all positive cases in India
  • The government says people should not use alcohol-based hand sanitizers before lighting diyas or candles on April 5
  • The railways say there is no certainty yet when services will resume after the lockdown and a final decision will be taken in the next few days
  • As coronavirus cases multiply in Assam, six north-east states seal their borders with the state
  • Power System Operation Corporation Ltd. (POCOSO) putting all systems and protocols in place at war-footing to ensure there is no grid failure due to reduction in demand on April 5 at 9 pm
  • Power ministry scotches rumours that the power grid might fail due to the 9-minute blackout called by PM Modi on Sunday, April 5
  • Centre asks people to wear home-made masks if it is absolutely essential for them to step out of homes
26 nurses and 3 doctors test positive for COVID-19 at Wockhardt Hospital in Mumbai, facility cordoned off, no entry or exit permitted from the hospital
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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.