Govt Needs Your View To Block Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter Under Certain Conditions
The union government’s Department of Telecom (DoT) has asked for technical advice from the industry which can be followed to block messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram and social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram in specific situations where national security and public order are under threat.
The Department of Telecom (DoT) on July 18, 2018, had written to all telecom operators, the Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI), industry body Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) and others requesting for their inputs to block the applications under Section 69A of the IT Act, as reported by Rajya Sabha TV.
“DoT in the letter had said that the Ministry of Electronics and IT, and the law enforcement agencies had raised an issue around blocking of certain mobile apps like Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, etc. to meet the requirement under Section 69A of IT Act,” an official source said.
What is DoT’s concern?
The recent events of mob lynching in the country were the result of fake news being rapidly spread on WhatsApp. Today as the internet is pervasive, social media is an indispensable part of everyone’s life. Considering social media’s power of turning itself into a serial killer, the government is concerned about how to stop fake news over social media?
According to reports, due to only one rumour of child lifting, there were 69 mob attacks and 33 deaths in last 18 months. Mob lynching events are the reason DoT wants to take said action. The fake news spread on WhatsApp was the provocation that some people acted in a delinquent manner.
What is Section 69A of IT Act?
The Section 69A of IT Act talks about power to issue directions for blocking public access to any information through any computer resource.
The law authorizes the central government or any officer authorized by it to issue a direction to block the information that is “generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted” in any computer or on the Internet for enumerated reasons.
- Sovereignty and integrity of India
- Defense of India
- Security of the state
- Friendly relations with foreign states
- Public order
- Preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offense relating to above.
Industry’s response over the DoT’s concern:
In response to the DoT consultation, industry body The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) said that the proposed measure to evolve mechanisms to block applications as a whole at the telecom operator level is excessive, unnecessary, and would greatly harm India’s reputation as growing hub of innovation in technology, as reported by Bloomberg.
Assocham countered the DoT’s step by mentioning the power of technology. The company said that with development in technology, there have emerged tools such as virtual private network which enables users to access content that may have been blocked at the telecom service provider or internet service provider level.
“In this scenario, blocking of applications at the TSP/ISP level may not be an efficacious solution as users can get around the same with increasing ease. Therefore, the focus on developing a mechanism to block content may be unwarranted,” said Assocham.
Social media’s steps to fight against fake news:
On first notice to WhatsApp by Government of India (GOI), WhatsApp took steps to keep the fake news in check by adding some features like message forward limit up to five chats and label of a forward message.
GOI is not happy with these measures and has issued another warning stating that lack of ample checks in the spreading of fake news will result in the government taking WhatsApp as an accomplice in speculation and circulation and legal repercussions will follow.
An IT ministry official, who wished to remain anonymous, said, WhatsApp has not committed itself on “traceability” and attribution of messages, which had been one of the key demands of the government. WhatsApp has informed the GOI that they are building a local team in order to curb down the issue of fake news spreading like wildfire and resulting in harming the nation’s interest.