Arts & Entertainment

New internet rules come into effect in India amid WhatsApp legal challenge

New Delhi, May 26 (EFE).- New regulations for online content came into effect on Wednesday in India but not before a lawsuit by WhatsApp to challenge the rules that it says endanger user privacy.

The new policy, which allows the government to assert more control over online news portals, social media, and video-streaming platforms, was unveiled in February.

The rules will have far-reaching ramifications for digital content in the country.

It necessitates tech firms to quickly remove any “unlawful” content and assist the government in tracing its origin.

One of the most controversial clauses of the new rules requires digital platforms to trace the originator of controversial messages for the “prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offense related to sovereignty and integrity of India.”

Content can be deemed contentious or mischievous if it harms “the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, or public order,” the new guidelines say.

Critics say the new rules go against end-to-end encryption claims by messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Signal.

The lawsuit by Facebook-owned WhatsApp pleads before the Delhi High Court to block the implementation of the new, arguing that the policy was unconstitutional.

“WhatsApp is committed to protecting the privacy of people’s personal messages. We will continue to do all we can within the laws of India,” a WhatsApp spokesperson told EFE.

The messaging service argues that “civil society and technical experts around the world have consistently argued that the need to trace private messages would break end-to-end encryption and lead to abuse.”

WhatsApp has about 530 million users in India, according to government data.

The Indian government has defended the new rules “to empower social media users” in blocking offensive or abusive content.

The guidelines require tech companies to appoint a chief compliance officer, an executive for coordinating law enforcement, and a “grievance redressal officer.”

Online streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, which have faced complaints in India for obscenity, will be subjected to a three-tier oversight mechanism.

The mechanism involves self-regulation by publishers, self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of publishers, and an oversight mechanism for self-classification of content.

According to the rules, OTT platforms must self-classify their content into five categories based on age: U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult).

They will also be required to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher.

The guidelines have revived the self-regulation versus censorship debate in the country labeled “partly free” by Freedom House watchdog on the global internet freedom index. EFE


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