“New laws put online freedom of expression at risk for Internet users,” a new report said. These lines are from the latest edition of the ‘Freedom on the Web’ 2021 report, which talked about 24 countries that had adopted new rules or laws for how platforms process content, one of which is India, as the report notes.
The report has mentioned how the Indian government has handled the social media platform Twitter over the past year. The report describes Indian officials who have pressured Twitter to remove content that criticizes the government itself, related to how it has handled Covid-19. The Indian government ordered Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to remove content that criticized authorities dealing with a fatal increase in Covid-19 infections during the spring, especially during the second wave.
What does ‘freedom on the web’ mean?
The Freedom on the Net report is an annual report that analyzes human rights status on various digital platforms. This year’s organization released its 11th edition, covering June 2020 to May 2021. It accounts for 88% of global Internet users in its assessment of 70 countries. During the assessment, 39% of the users fall into the category NOT FREE, 28% are PARTIALLY FREE, 21% are FREE, and 12% are NOT assessed. Global Internet freedom has fallen for the 11th year in a row. In the context of India, the report criticizes the Modi government for digital regulation of various accounts, the new IT rules and internet stops.
New IT rules criticized
The report describes that the new IT rules (Intermediate Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics) are one of the “most detailed initiatives during this report’s coverage period.” It outlines mandates for a redress mechanism, implementation of AI-based moderation tools, and the appointment of three new local officers, including a head of compliance, under the section “Problematic Obligations to Remove Content.” The report acknowledges the improvement and the rules for companies that have at least five million users to notify users when their posts were removed, provide an apparent reason and an opportunity for appeal, and go into more detail on its limitations. The report also says rules that say banning content is contrary to the nation’s integrity and sovereignty or public order are vaguely defined.
The report also discusses the recent friction between Twitter and the EU government during the Farmers Protest in 2021. Twitter had reversed its decisions to fully comply with IT rules when the government asked them to resign from journalists and political opponents, criticizing the government. After which Twitter faced police inquiries, threats that its employees would be charged with crimes and a visit to its offices, the report said. The report also highlights the section in IT rules that calls for social media outlets to expose the first originator of content in matters of state sovereignty and integrity, public order and sexually explicit content, and the report says it will force companies to to remove end -to end encryption, “undermines the privacy and security that businesses, users and governments have come to trust”.
Internet Shutdown Capital
The report, entitled ‘Free Expression in Danger’, notes that India is among the 20 countries that shut down the internet to a section of society this year. The report talks about the repeated internet stops in Delhi in January and February this year. “A shutdown in Delhi is affecting more than 50 million mobile subscribers,” the report said. That report also discusses banning Chinese apps amid tensions between the two countries on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in 2020. The report notes that it shows “how geopolitical tensions can destroy freedom of expression and access to information.”
The report also included a section on the proliferation of spyware surveillance, noting that authorities in 45 of the 70 countries surveyed have been suspected of having access to sophisticated spyware, including NSO Group’s Pegasus software, including Cellebrite, Circles and Finisher. .
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