Say it will be a breach of their basic rights
Hyderabad: The big question today is: Will social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter be banned in India?
On February 25, the Centre announced rules for these platforms and gave them time till May 25 to comply with the rules, which these platforms have not so far.
Meedini Kode, a lawyer commenting, informed The Observer: “The provisions of sub-section (1) of Section 79 of the Act clearly say that whosoever is not following the rules will be liable to punishment under any law including the provision of the Act and the IPC.”
In response, WhatsApp has filed a petition against the IT Rules, 2021, which has asked social media platforms to identify the originator of the information.
WhatsApp has argued that this will lead to breaking end-to-end encryption and to breach of privacy, and violate the fundamental rights to privacy and free speech of the users.
The government has said imposing these rules will regulate these platforms.
“Of course, we know that this would happen. Why will these companies give up so easily? WhatsApp’s argument is strong; it cites a 2017 ruling by SC supporting privacy in a case very famously known as the Puttaswamy judgement,” said Meedini. In the Puttaswamy judgement, the court said the privacy of an individual must be preserved except in some legal and exceptional cases.
Prof. Kakumanu Ravi Kumar of the Department of Mass communication, St Francis College for Women, said: “Freedom of speech and expression is the fundamental right of every citizen, the government shouldn’t try to take it away from the citizens. We are already in the world of rising data, where there is very little or no privacy, now these rules will remove the leftover privacy too.”
In the fight between the government and these social media platforms, why should citizens be concerned? Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a US-based non-profit rights group, commented on the issue terming the whole act as ‘Draconian’ and said “These rules have already been used in an attempt to censor speech on the government. Within days of being published, the rules were used by a state in which the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is in power to issue a legal notice to an online news platform that has been critical of the government. The legal notice was withdrawn immediately after public outcry, but served as a warning of how the rules can be used.” EFF here refers to the notices that the Manipur government has sent to journalists under the new laws.
While all this is going on, users of these platforms are worried it will be banned forever.
Madhu Kumar, an avid user of these sites, said, “I really don’t think we can survive without these social media apps. If the government bans them then it will really be problematic, especially when everything is becoming online.” He also said that these apps are a lot entertaining and help him relieve his stress by connecting him to people.
Another user, Harini Rajasekar, said “These social media sites are not just entertaining platforms, but a good source of information. Now if the government wants to control everything by banning apps, then what type of democracy is this? Where is freedom of speech, expression and right to privacy in the country?” She also said that she supports the WhatsApp move.”
Worried that they may never use these platforms again, thousands of users on Instagram posted their pictures as their Instagram stories saying “In case of Insta being banned in India from tomorrow, just letting you all know that this is my favourite photo/first photo/last photo on Instagram.” Who wins in this legal war between digital platforms and the government is yet to be seen.
As per data cited by the government, India has 53 crores WhatsApp users, 44.8 crore YouTube users, 41 crore Facebook subscribers, 21 crores Instagram users, while 1.75 crore account holders are on the microblogging platform Twitter.