In India, tech firms should stand in favor of privacy, freedom of expression: Human Rights Watch

Government machinery targeting critics, supporters of farmer movement, the prominent rights group said.

TCN News

Support TwoCircles

The actions the Indian government has taken in response to growing international criticism of its methods of dealing with the peasant movement violate the right to freedom of expression and privacy, Access Now, article 19, association For Progressive Communications, Committee to Protect Journalists, Dangerous Speech Project, Derechos Digital, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, Nimounik, Reporters Without Borders and Witness released a joint statement Friday.

On February 14, 2021, Indian authorities arrested Disha Ravi , a 21-year-old Bangalore-based activist who volunteered for the movement Fridays for Future, launched by Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, on various charges including treason and criminal conspiracy, and lawyer Nikita An arrest warrant was issued against Jacob and activist Shantanu Muluk . However, both of them got bail before arrest.

Government alleged that shared by Thanberg on social media including Twitter an online toolkit , which Kisan movements was prepared for the purpose of providing information to peaceful supporters of the Sun “in the main case to edit and share Conspirators ”. While granting bail to Ravi, a Delhi court said the evidence presented is “insufficient and vague”, and citizens cannot be put in jail simply because they disagree with the government’s policies. He also said, “Treason cannot be tried for the healing of the injured gurur of governments.”

These steps of the government were the latest actions to suppress criticism and control the information related to the movement and democratic opposition. At the same time, the government has been hardened to put pressure on social media companies to shut down the Internet at protest sites, prevent journalists from accessing movement sites, make unwarranted criminal accusations on journalists writing news on the movement, and to stop critical content. There are many actions like using the law.

The Delhi Police said that in February, it had written a letter to Google and other technology companies to make toolkits and provide records related to the activity of those who shared them. Police said that it is also seeking information from the video conferencing application Zoom about the people who attended the meeting to prepare the toolkit. And he has also sought information from WhatsApp about a group formed in support of the peasant movements. The groups said that disclosing the protected information of a user exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly would not be commensurate with the responsibilities of companies under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

On 25 February, the Government of India announced new rules under the Information Technology Act, targeting Internet intermediaries including social media services, digital news services and curated video streaming sites . The government says that the purpose of the rules is to stop the misuse of social media, including the spread of “fake news”. These rules allow for greater government control over online content, present a threat to weaken encryption and will severely undermine the rights of online privacy and freedom of expression. The groups said that the government should suspend the new rules.

The groups said, the Indian government should withdraw allegations of alleged involvement in a shared document on social media against Ravi and other accused, stop targeting activists involved in peaceful expression on online mediums, and social media censors and internet Attempts to restrict access to access should be stopped.

Lakhs of farmers have been agitating along the Delhi border since November 2020 after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) -led government implemented three agricultural laws . The government says that these laws will improve the agriculture sector, while the farmers say that their livelihood will be endangered by these laws.

On 26 January, violent clashes broke out between the farmers and the police who entered Delhi by breaking the police barricades. The government accused it of an “international conspiracy” to discredit India , registered cases against the organizers and activists of the movement, and ordered Twitter to close around 1,200 accounts, including the accounts of journalists and news organizations.

Human Rights Watch wrote to Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Zoom about the government’s recent orders regarding content removal and restrictions and the information sought by the government in the direction of Disha Ravi. Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, responded that it could not comment on personal matters due to confidentiality, with publicly available reports suggesting that Ravi’s information on his WhatsApp chat after his arrest Was obtained, indicating that the police had access to his mobile device after being detained. There is no response to the letter from Google and Zoom.

Since 31 January, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has given separate orders to Twitter to close more than 1,000 accounts under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act.Huh. The government claims that these Twitter accounts were spreading misinformation about farmer movements. Twitter initially complied with the order, but then said that it would not act on the accounts of news media institutions, journalists, activists and politicians. He said, “We believe that doing so would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law.”

Out of the accounts that the Government of India ordered to be closed, Twitter closed only a few. The government criticized this decision of Twitter and said that it is disappointed with the company’s action . The government also sent a notice to Twitter for not complying with the orders, which, according to Indian law, warned its Indian-based employees to be fined and imprisoned. Google-owned YouTube removed two songs associated with the peasant movements . It did not respond to Human Rights Watch’s question whether it was done due to confidential government orders.

It is the responsibility of many companies, including social media platforms, to respect human rights by becoming independent of the government’s readiness to fulfill its human rights obligations. According to international standards, companies must “engage in strategies for prevention and mitigation in situations of conflict with local law that respect the principles of internationally recognized human rights as much as possible.” They should interpret and execute legal demands very closely to ensure that there are minimal restrictions on expression, informing users, seeking clarification or amendments from the government, and challenging All legal options can be explored for.

After the violence on 26 January, the government machinery shut down mobile internet services for several days at various demonstration sites and in several districts of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh states, as well as parts of the national capital Delhi . In the year 2019, India was the first in the world to do so by banning the Internet 121 times. It placed at least 109 such orders in 2020 during the Kovid-19 epidemic . It imposed a record ban on the internet in Jammu and Kashmir for 18 months , which was finally lifted in February.

The groups said that shutting down the Internet and trying to control online expression has become the Indian government’s default method of action on demonstrations. This violates India’s obligations under international human rights law, according to which any kind of Internet-based ban should be necessary and appropriate action against specific security concerns. Authorities should not use extensive, indiscriminate sanctions to stop information flow or to blunt people’s ability to gather freely and express political views.

The Government of India should also comply with the Supreme Court’s decision to publish all Internet ban orders. The government should publish the details of the meetings of the review committee and review the telecom service suspension rules of 2017 through open public consultation.

The Government of India should also amend Section 69A of the Information Technology Act and related rules to strengthen the prescribed procedures before banning online content. Information Technology (Amendment) Act of 2008Under Section 69A of the Internet Intermediaries, there is a provision of a fine and a jail term of up to seven years for failing to comply. The Indian government has not yet published orders issued under section 69A of this law, claiming confidentiality, rarely informs the user of the banned content, nor seeks an independent review of its decisions. . It is imperative that a copy of each restriction order be published detailing the reasons for the ban in the revised rules and that users should be informed before the ban and allow them to appeal against the government order.