[Editorial Analysis] Overzealous threat

Mains Paper 3: Security
Prelims level: Constitutional provision over social media posts
Mains level: Challenges to internal security through communication networks, role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges, basics of cybersecurity

Context:

• The warning by the Bihar police of legal action being taken against users of social media for “offensive” posts targeting the present government,
• The Ministers and officials, betrays both hypersensitivity and ignorance of the law. It represents an unacceptable combination of low tolerance for criticism and zeal to cow down the public.
• To carve this “The government would do well not to act on the police circular blindly”, lest it be seen as an attempt to suppress its critics and those who make allegations of corruption.

Constitutional provision over social media posts:

• Article 19(1)(a): Freedom of speech and expression, provides every citizen with the right to express one’s views, opinions, beliefs, and convictions freely by word of mouth, writing, printing, picturing or in any other manner.
• Article 19(2) confers the right on the State to impose reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the freedom of speech and expression on the grounds of,

1. Sovereignty and integrity of India,
2. Security of the state,
3. Friendly relations with foreign states,
4. Public order, decency or morality,
5. Contempt of court, defamation, and incitement to an offence.

• Article 21 declares that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. This right is available to both citizens and non-citizens.
• Article 21-A states that the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State by law may determine.

Other Law’s:

• The Information Technology Act, 2000 was amended by the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008 and was enforced on October 27, 2009. It provides legal framework to address various types of cyber crimes and prescribes punishment.
• Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000, which dealt with “Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc
• In Shreya Singhal Case Supreme court said that when a provision of law suffers from Vagueness and unclear about the terms and penal provisions used then that provision of law can be struck down by the judiciary (Supreme Court struck down Section 66Aof IT Act
• the Section 79 of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000, say that social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Google would have to comply with its direction in providing information and assistance within 72 hours of a request made with regard to origin of any content deemed unlawful and to remove it.

Need for regulating digital/social media platforms:

• Ability of digital/social Media to Reach worldwide, Scale and size is huge compare to print and other media.
• While electronic media in India is regulated by the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act of 1995, there was no law or body to oversee digital content. Some people are taking an undue advantage which leads to too much voice and noise in social media.
• India has seen a surge in the number of fake news items in circulation, especially on social media including WhatsApp and Face book.
• Absence of control in digital/ social media leads to large-scale user-generated content which is unregulated.
• In this time, when India is in conflict with its neighbouring countries like China and Pakistan, there is a possibility of Foreign-funded digital platforms running to defame our country.
• There is also evidence of fake information influencing the process of election in which undermines the root of democracy.

Other suggestions include:

• Labelling the accounts of state-controlled news organizations.
• Limiting how many times messages can be forwarded to large groups, as Facebook does on WhatsApp.
• Implementing “circuit breakers” so that newly viral content is temporarily stopped from spreading while it is fact-checked.
• Forcing social networks to disclose in the news feed why content has been recommended to a user.
• Limiting the use of micro-targeting advertising messages.
• Making it illegal to exclude people from content on the basis of race or religion, such as hiding a spare room advert from people of color.
• Banning the use of so-called dark patterns – user interfaces designed to confuse or frustrate the user, such as making it hard to delete your account.

Solutions:

• The cyber-crime wing must be open to every district police Station may initiate proceedings against those who post offensive messages.
• The police can only be dealt with by way of criminal complaints before magistrates, and can be the subject of a police investigation, and other component decides by magistrate.
• The government empowers to institute on criminal defamation cases through public prosecutors,
• The alleged defamation is in respect of the official duties of public servants, but such measures do not exactly shore up a regime’s popularity.
• The State government has clarified that the proposed action would only be against rumors-mongering and insulting language.

Way forward:

• According to GNI’s report, online platforms that support user-generated content can become an important part of India’s Internet economy and contribute around Rs 2.49 lakh crore (USD 41 Billion) by 2015, in addition to the contribution of other elements of the Internet economy.
• Social media requires Intermediaries, which include national and international social networking sites, to observe due diligence while discharging their duties.
• India’s robust tradition of freedom of expression and its dynamic ICT (information communication and technology) sector are threatened by anxieties around issues such as hate speech, political criticism, and obscene content.
• The number of internet connections recently crossed the 750 million milestones in India; Digital Literacy Programmed has to be encouraged along with Digital India Mission.

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