The parliamentary standing committee on communications and information technology (IT) has summoned major digital platforms, including Facebook, YouTube, and X (formerly Twitter), for a meeting concerning “monopolistic practices” and content-related issues in Mumbai on October 9, according to sources.
In a letter issued on Wednesday, the department-related standing committee shared various sets of questions with platforms such as YouTube, X, WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, Snapchat, and LinkedIn.
They also included Indian applications (apps) like Koo, ShareChat, and Dailyhunt. This development arises amidst reports of the government’s drafting of the Digital India Bill to replace India’s primary digital law, the IT Act, 2000.
The standing committee will be in Mumbai on October 9 and 10. Their agenda allocates a designated slot for discussions with representatives from the Ministry of Electronics and IT and executives of online platforms.
Sources indicate that industry members are likely to be questioned about their services, their approaches to managing content on the platforms, and relevant regulations.
An early draft of the Digital India Bill suggests that the government is likely to acquire sweeping powers to track, monitor, intercept, moderate, and remove online content under the new law.
This new Bill may also empower the government to determine whether certain categories of intermediaries can claim exemption from liability for third-party digital communication or digital records.
If enacted, this would signify a significant departure from the current “safe harbour” or immunity enjoyed by online platforms from legal action for illegal content shared on their platforms.
Presently, Section 79 of the IT Act states that an internet intermediary shall not be held liable for any third-party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted by them.
There have been several instances where the government has cautioned social media platforms for not adhering to content moderation-related laws in India.
The IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, mandate intermediaries to remove unlawful information within 36 hours upon receiving an order from a court or government agency.
However, government officials have consistently expressed dissatisfaction with the proactive compliance efforts of social media companies.
In 2021, Twitter was named as a party in the first information report filed by the Uttar Pradesh Police regarding a tweet containing misinformation.
The 31-member committee, currently chaired by Shiv Sena Member of Parliament Prataprao Ganpatrao Jadhav, may also discuss the provision of message interception through over-the-top communication apps in situations that threaten the sovereignty or integrity of India, public order, and the security of the State.
Experts have cautioned that such government interception could negate the security benefits of end-to-end encryption offered by messaging platforms like WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram. Business Standard