Under the proposed rules, Indian officials could demand that Facebook, Google, Twitter, TikTok and others remove posts or videos that they deem libelous, invasive of privacy, hateful or deceptive. Internet companies would also have to build automated screening tools to block Indians from seeing “unlawful information or content.” Another provision would weaken the privacy protections of messaging services like WhatsApp so that the authorities could trace messages back to their original senders.
The new rules could be imposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government anytime after the public comment period ends on Thursday night. The administration has been eager to get them in place before the date is set for this spring’s national elections, which will prompt special pre-election rules limiting new policies.
Civil liberties groups and other critics said the changes would violate constitutional protections for free speech and privacy and put India in the same league as autocratic countries like China and Russia. Some of them suggested that the Modi administration was rushing to adopt the regulations so it could more easily pressure the tech platforms to remove social media posts by political opponents in the coming election.
“The proposed changes have an authoritarian bent,” said Apar Gupta, executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation, a digital rights group, which plans to challenge the rules in court if they are enacted. “This is very similar to what China does to its citizens, where it polices their every move and tracks their every post on social media.”
India’s proposals add to the growing resistance worldwide against internet behemoths like Google and Facebook, which once flourished largely unimpeded. In Europe, officials last year enacted tough new rules to protect people’s online data, forcing the companies to change some practices. China has long used a system of internet filters, known as the Great Firewall, to block content and shut out global tech companies. And in a 2017 review, The New York Times tallied more than 50 countries that had passed laws in recent years to gain greater control over how their people use the web.