Three UN special rapporteurs on rights issues have criticised India’s new IT rules, saying its democratic credentials are well recognised. The right to freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed under its Constitution.
“The concerns alleging potential implications for freedom of expression that the new IT Rules will entail are highly misplaced,” India’s permanent mission to the UN in Geneva said in a strong response, implying that the rules are “designed to empower ordinary users” of social media.
The enactment of these rules had become necessary following widespread concerns about increasing instances of abuse of social media and digital platforms, it said. The Upper House of Parliament had repeatedly asked the government regarding strengthening the social media framework in India and make it accountable under the Indian laws and the rules.
“The Permanent Mission of India would also like to highlight that India’s democratic credentials are well recognised. The right to freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed under the Indian Constitution”, it said in a communication to the rapporteurs. “The independent judiciary and a robust media are part of India’s democratic structure”, it added.
The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy had expressed concerns that the rules may be misused deliberately to make a large number of complaints to overwhelm the grievance redressal mechanisms created by social media platforms.
Regarding the concern, the Indian mission marked it as ‘misplaced, exaggerated and disingenuous’. “The concern shows a lack of willingness to address the grievances of the users of these media platforms while using their data to earn revenues,” the Indian mission said in its response.
The Rapporteurs further said the rules in their current form do not conform with international human rights norms and pressed for a detailed review. “We would like to recall that restrictions to freedom of expression must never be invoked as a justification for the muzzling of any advocacy of multiparty democracy, democratic tenets and human rights,” the Rapporteurs said in a communication.
Per the new rules, the social media companies are required to appoint India-based grievance redressal officers, compliance officers and nodal officers to address complaints of the users. “The enactment of new IT rules had become necessary due to widespread concerns about issues relating to increased instances of abuse of social media and digital platforms”, it said.