Government proposes changes to IT Act; could hit Google, Facebook and WhatsApp

The changes if amended, could allow shutdown of sites and apps.

  • Published: January 2, 2019 9:23 AM IST

With the use of internet and social networking sites on a rise, the problem with child pornography and fake news flow is getting difficult to regulate. To ensure there is some control over what is shared on social networking sites, the government plans is planning to introduce some changes to the IT Act.

On January 5, the Ministry of electronics and IT (MeitY) is meeting members of several advocacy groups related to internet freedom. The changes that the ministry is proposing will make social media companies more accountable for fake news flow. The government has already initiated the process to revise Section 79 of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000.

The amendment includes extreme provisions of taking downs sites and apps that violate the rules. As such, social media platforms such as Google, WhatsApp, Twitter, Telegram and Facebook could be badly hurt with this move.

Currently, if a fake news is circulated, there is no way to track the source. In the name of user privacy and encryption, social media sites do not provide necessary information. However, once the changes are amended, companies will have to comply with the government and provide information and assistance within 72 hours once a request is made. They will not only have to offer details about the origin of unlawful content, but also remove it to stop it from spreading further.

Some social media companies already have differences with the government over tracking the origin of fake content, the one that interferes with elections and politics, and also the ones that spread revenge porn and child abuse. “We need accountability and power to heavily penalise the companies in case of violations, or refusal to cooperate,” a senior government official told TOI.

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Last year, the government carried out an exercise to determine if blocking websites or taking down apps was a feasible solution, but it is still being discussed. “Even the penalties that we currently have under the IT Act are not sufficient and need to be revised. Many global companies have big turnover and relatively-small penalties may not be sufficient deterrence. We are taking a cue from the penalty proposals in the data protection bill, another government official told the publication.

The finalized data protection bill by government proposes a maximum penalty of 15 crore, or 4 percent of the worldwide turnover of the social media company, whichever is higher. With the proposed IT Act changes under Section 69A, the government is considering whether it can clampdown the operations of website and apps in case of serious violations.

  • Published Date: January 2, 2019 9:23 AM IST