With fake news spread on social media platforms coming under increased scrutiny ahead of the general election, a top government official said technology firms cannot escape responsibility for harmful content on their platforms.
“As a patient I can tell what is my problem, but tech companies should act as a doctor or surgeon and tell me how are they solving it,” Gopalakrishnan S., Joint Secretary, Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) said at a conference here hosted by Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC.in), a Delhi-based not-for-profit legal services organisation.
“They cannot escape responsibility. There is a liability on intermediaries to minimise the harm. You can’t have an intermediary say that I don’t care how people are using my platform. There is a huge social cost, political cost,” he added.
In the draft Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2019, the government has proposed that if a tech platform or intermediary has over 50 lakh subscribers in India, they should assume extra liability or responsibility.
The rules propose that such companies should have a permanent registered office in the country and appoint in India a nodal person of contact among others.
“Our idea is not to bother all intermediaries, especially the small ones, with little impact,” Gopalakrishnan S. said.
Participating at the discussion, Siddharth Jain, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Delhi Police, lamented that in certain cases the police have no way of finding out the person involved in cybercrime.
“Facebook and Google have done better, but others need catching up to do,” he said.
“The response times of intermediaries is not uniform. Those intermediaries who are based in India tend to provide us requested information in 24 or 48 hours. For foreign-based intermediaries, if the user is Indian or based in India, the response is better. However in case of a foreign user posting illegal content targeting India, their response is not so good,” Jain said.
Messaging platforms like WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption which means that except the sender and the recipient, nobody else, including WhatsApp, can see the messages shared on the platform.
“Privacy can’t be used as a defence when the safety of life is an issue,” Jain said, adding that a special cyber cell has been set up in Dwarka for capacity building by Delhi Police.