EC demand for more power in IT law panned by industry, civil society

Industry and civil society organisations have opposed the Election Commission of India's (EC's) demand for including a clause in the proposed changes to the country's technology laws that deal with taking down content hosted on social media, messaging services and other online platforms.

An ongoing consultation being carried out by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has proposed changes to Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, seeking to regulate a set of companies that qualify as intermediaries, and covers the likes of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Google. 

The proposed changes include asking companies to notify users about their privacy policies at least once every month, assisting a government agency in an appropriate manner within 72 hours of communication and take down or disable access to the content specified by the draft law. 

In its comments made to MeitY as part of the consultation, the EC has asked that a clause is added to the proposed rules so they apply to “violation of any of the provisions of election law or/and directions of the Election Commission, during the period of any election".

In counter-comments submitted by different stakeholders, several entities disagreed with the EC's demand and said the existing laws were enough to deal with electoral processes, and do not require a modification in the IT Act. 

"This proposal from the EC implies a desire for (permanent) powers over 'platforms', which would result in the unintended consequence of making the process of election restrained and unfair," said Sivasubramanian Muthusamy of the Internet Society, Chennai.

The Asia Internet Coalition, an industry association for Internet policy issues in the Asia Pacific region, and includes members like Amazon, Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn, said the ECI demand "goes over and beyond the proposed amendments. The terms 'any provision of election law' and 'directions of the ECI' are not precise phrases and are vague in nature. Using vague phrases for restricting free speech is not constitutionally permissible".

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