Internet giant Mozilla, the company behind the Firefox browser, has always been a big promoter of the open Internet. But right now Mozilla is not happy with India’s new IT regulations for social media platforms, OTT and digital news content. It says the new IT rules do not have enough checks and balances in place.

The Mozilla’s public policy adviser, Mr. Udbhav Tiwari is of the opinion that the sudden move by the Indian government will have disastrous consequences on the open internet.

Reportedly he said in a blog post that

By expanding the ‘due diligence’ obligations that intermediaries will have to follow to avail safe harbour, these rules will harm end-to-end encryption, substantially increase surveillance, promote automated filtering and prompt a fragmentation of the internet.

Tiwari highlighted a few reasons why the new rules are not going to empower Indians but harm their interests. He is of the saying that their implementation may also lead to unintended consequences on the overall health of the Internet. 

Reasons:

  • Rules cannot be followed without breaking end-to-end encryption

India’s new IT rules calls for all social media intermediaries to track the ‘first promoter’. 

According to Mozilla, it would give platforms such as WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram no choice but to break end-to-end encryption. This, in turn, harms the interests of the user as it weakens the overall security of the services.

Tiwari wrote that

[The rules] contradict the principles of data minimisation endorsed in the Ministry of Electronic and Information Technology’s (MeitY) draft of the data protection bill,” – common sexual acts with end-to-end encryption.

He also added that the aspect of automated filtering of child sexual abuse materials (CSAM), non-consensual sexual acts is also fundamentally incompatible with end-to-end encryption.

Companies monitoring infrastructure for surveillance will have ‘disastrous implications’ for freedom of expression and privacy.

  • Not enough time has been given to verify abuse claims

It is a good move in theory, especially if you are one of the victims. It complicates things on behalf of social media platforms. A 36-hour limit for a content taker and a 72-hour window to share user data is not enough to analyze requests or ask for further clarification, according to Mozilla’s public policy head.

Explaining how such a norm would undermine the people’s fundamental right to privacy and freedom of expression, Tiwari said-

 “This would likely create a perverse incentive to take down content and share user data without sufficient due process safeguards.”

  • The new laws are against the decision of the Supreme Court

When revenge porn, deep fakes, and other content that is abusive, now social media platforms need to delete posts within 24 hours.

While this is a valid issue, Tiwari states that it is against the historic Shreya Singhal decision by the Supreme Court in 2015. The bench clarified that companies will only be expected to remove the material when it is directly conveyed by a court or government.

  • They remove all the anonymity provided by the Internet

Voluntary verification, as mandated in India’s new IT regulations, is asking social media platforms to provide users with a voluntary mechanism to prove their identity using phone numbers or government-issued IDs.

This can create an incentive for the collection of personal data. While the law states that there is nothing about potential misuse, the description can be used to profile and target users.

The public has seen an example of this during Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal.

And, where there is personal data, there is a high risk of hackers trying to steal it. This will increase the pressure on social media intermediaries – those who can afford it – to enhance their cyber security.

More than fighting misinformation, according to Mozilla, these laws will prevent benefits that are offered on the Internet for anonymity, such as whistle blowing and protection from stalkers.

  • There aren’t enough checks and balances against over reach

Content has to be removed. There is not enough time to investigate each complaint. And, according to Mozilla, there is nothing to stop the government from moving forward.