Will Tracing The Originator Of Fake News Posts On Social Media Be Made Mandatory in India

Sanjay Dhotre, minister of state for IT told Rajya Sabha that changes will be introduced in Information Technology (IT) Act, to mandate social media and internet companies to trace the originator of posts made on the platform
Will Tracing The Originator Of Fake News Posts On Social Media Be Made Mandatory in India
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Social media giants such as WhatsApp, Facebook, ByteDance have not been in good terms with the Indian government after numerous instances of a privacy breach and spread of fake news. Amid the ongoing troubles, Sanjay Dhotre,  minister of state for IT told Rajya Sabha that changes will be introduced in Information Technology (IT) Act, to mandate social media and internet companies to trace the originator of posts made on the platform.

According to reports, social media companies will have to take down malicious content within 24 hours of receiving a court order, or notification from the government. This changes will be a part of amendments to the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 notified under Section 79 of the IT Act.

The proposed amendments will also mandate the companies to inform their users about the compliance of rules, following users’ agreement and privacy policy. 

Related Story: Is It Safe For You To Use WhatsApp?

Reiteration of MeitY’s Demand

Mandating traceability of the originator of fake information is a reiteration Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology’s (MeitY) demand. The central government had pulled up Facebook-owned company WhatsApp after a fake news about kidnapping caused “unfortunate killings” in the country. 

Following several such incidences, MeitY had asked Whatsapp to devise a solution to trace the originator of the fake message. However, the company declined the request stating that this would require them to break its encryption feature.

In response, IIT Madras professor V Kamakoti, who serves on the board of National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) proposed ways to ensure traceability without breaking encryption. According to Prof Kamakoti, WhatsApp can embed information about the originator of a text along with the encrypted message. Such information will be encrypted but can be shown to law enforcement if the situation demanded.

According to a report by MediaNama, Dr Manoj Prabhakaran, a computer science professor at IIT Bombay said that Kamakoti's proposal might affect users' privacy. Prabhakaran who submitted his analysis on behalf of Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) to the Madras High Court believes that traceability might not be an effective tool to combat fake news. He highlighted that one may hire several thousand people to serve as originators of  content, thus the main brain behind this might remain untraceable.

Amendments To Draft Intermediaries Guidelines 

MeitY had proposed amendments to India’s IT Act in December 2018 which state that companies with over 50 lakh users need to have an office in India and appoint a nodal officer to work with law enforcement agencies.

The amendments also state that companies need to deploy technology-based automated tools to identify and take down unlawful content. Following this, internet companies are required to trace the originator of such content and share the information with government authorities within 72 hours.

For the uninitiated, the IT Act, 2000 was enacted to boost online payment, provide legal recognition for e-commerce and e-transactions, facilitate e-governance and prevent computer-based crimes. The IT Act also ensures security practices and procedures. Section 79 of the IT Act focuses on an exemption from liabilities of intermediaries in certain cases. 

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