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New rules proposed by the Indian government to rein in tech giants and combat fake news could have a profoundly chilling effect on free speech and privacy online. The proposed changes involve Section 79 of the IT Act, a safe harbor protection for internet “intermediaries” that’s akin to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in the US. Current law protects intermediaries such as internet service providers and social media platforms from liability for the actions of their users until they are made aware of a particular post; intermediaries also must only censor content when directed by a court.
The proposed amendments attempt to curb the spread of misinformation on platforms like Facebook and Twitter by effectively forcing internet companies to censor a broad swath of user content. They also require secure messaging services like WhatsApp to decrypt encrypted data for government use, which could affect the security of users around the globe. The rules also would require internet companies to notify users of their privacy policies monthly.
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Even before the rules go into effect, internet companies have begun self-censoring content in response to the proposed change. On Thursday, Netflix and eight other streaming services voluntarily agreed to ban unlawful content from their platforms. According to BuzzFeed News, Netflix’s decision to self-regulate was “an attempt to avoid official government censorship.” Netflix did not respond to a request for comment.
Under the new rules, platforms would be required to deploy automated tools to ensure that information or content deemed “unlawful” by government standards never appears online. The Indian government has yet to define what it considers unlawful, but critics warn that it could create incentives for internet companies to flag, and potentially remove, more content than necessary, to avoid publishing something illegal. The unlawful definition likely would encompass everything prohibited under Indian law, which...
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