Mozilla, the not-for-profit behind the Firefox web browser, Microsoft-owned GitHub and web-hosting and security company Cloudflare have written to the Electronics and Information Technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, asking his ministry for greater transparency in framing intermediary liability rules.
The amended guidelines are widely expected to be presented by next week on January. As part of an ongoing case in the Supreme Court, the ministry had in October asked for three more months to finalise the rules on preventing the misuse of social media profiles. That hearing is scheduled for January 15.
The firms in the letter said it was "vital that the public has the opportunity to see a final version of these amendments to help ensure that they assuage the concerns which have been voiced by a wide variety of stakeholders during the public consultation. We appeal for this increased transparency and we remain committed to working with you to achieve the broader objective of these amendments while allowing Indians to benefit from a global internet".
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had in December 2018, proposed changes to Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, and asked for public comments on the draft amendments that seek to regulate a set of companies that qualify as intermediaries.
While it received hundreds of responses from several quarters, the amendments were not finalised.
The communication from the technology firms further said "the last version of these amendments which were available in the public domain suggest that the rules will promote automated censorship, tilt the playing field in favour of large players, substantially increase surveillance, and prompt a fragmentation of the internet in India that would harm users while failing to empower Indians."
Mozilla, Coudflare and Github pointed out in their letter that the definition of intermediaries was quite broad, which would "likely lead to many unintended parties being impacted by these amendments. This may include browsers, operating systems, online repositories of knowledge, software development platforms, and services even further down the internet stack such as
DNS, cybersecurity and caching services among others—none of which we believe to be the targets of this regulation and all likely to face a considerable increase in legal risk".
They also pointed out contentious issues with the legal local incorporation requirement of any business with more than 5 million users, technically infeasible requirement to “proactively” monitor platforms for “all unlawful content” and short timelines of 24 hours for content takedowns and 72 hours for the sharing of user data pose significant implementation and freedom of expression challenges.
"The requirement to enable the ‘traceability of the originator’ of content, which would require all intermediaries to surveil their users, undermine encryption, and harm the fundamental right to privacy of Indian users," the letter further said.