The signed letter comes a few days after the government implemented the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code to regulate online content. The rules, activists say, is a political tool to curb dissent and control the critique of the government.
“Suspend the implementation of the intermediary rules and commit to reviewing them — including undertaking sustained, meaningful and broadly participatory consultation with the public at large,” the letter further reads, adding that the government should also be transparent when it asks social media companies to take down content.
The letter calls the rules “unconstitutional” and refers to them as an assault on fundamental rights of freedom of expression. “The rules were ostensibly created to combat fake news, restrict illegal content, aid public authorities in better tracing illegal activities online, and improve grievance redress mechanisms for users. However, they create a framework for unnecessary and disproportionate interference with freedom of expression… This can legitimize political or other bias in content governance, reducing the space for broad based expression, including criticism and dissent,” the letter reads.
It also adds that the implementation of the rules “undermine end-to-end encryption, resulting in a chilling effect on freedom of expression and freedom of association even on private messaging platforms, and put the personal data and privacy of users in India at risk”.
The letter also called out the attempts to “intimidate intermediaries and their employees”, while referring to the Delhi police’s manner of serving a notice to Twitter. Delhi police had gone to Twitter’s headquarters to serve the company a notice regarding its decision to tag a tweet by BJP politician Sambit Patra as “manipulated media”.