New IT rules a setback for free speech, access to information, say Indian Americans - IAMC

New IT rules a setback for free speech, access to information, say Indian Americans

Washington, DC (April 11, 2023) – The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) strongly condemns the new draconian Information Technology (IT) amendment issued by the Indian government, which would have a chilling effect on freedom of speech and expression in the country.

The new rules publicized by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) would create a government fact-checking unit with the power to identify “fake or false or misleading” information on government and social media intermediaries like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram or telecom services. Each would be under a legal obligation to remove the content, failing which they could lose their “safe harbor” immunity.

IAMC calls on the Indian government to repeal this law, which flies in the face of India’s constitution and the Indian supreme court’s previous affirmations of the right to free speech.

“This Orwellian new law represents the Modi regime’s desperate attempt to decide what is true and false. It gives the government unchecked power to censor individuals and communities. It is a huge rollback of freedom of expression and access to information,” said IAMC Executive Director Rasheed Ahmed.

“It will not single out any particular state or region but make all of India suffer the information blockades to which Kashmir and Punjab have been routinely subjected. It puts Indian citizens at risk of the conditions of absolute falsehood that prevail in authoritarian states like North Korea,” IAMC Executive Director Ahmed added.

Press freedom and civil society organizations have also criticized the new amendment. The Editors Guild of India, the nation’s most prestigious press organization, wrote in an April 7 statement, “There is no mention of what will be the governing mechanism for such a fact-checking unit, the judicial oversight, the right to appeal, or adherence to the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court of India in Shreya Singhal v Union of India case, with respect to take down of content or blocking of social media handles.”

The Internet Freedom Foundation also strongly condemned the legislation, stating, “Assigning any unit of the government such arbitrary, overbroad powers to determine the authenticity of online content bypasses the principles of natural justice, thus making it an unconstitutional exercise. The notification of these amended rules cement the chilling effect on the fundamental right to speech and expression…”

The amendment comes on the heels of the Modi regime’s escalating attacks on freedom of expression, which have included, in recent weeks shutting off the internet for 27 million people in Punjab, censoring Indian textbooks, intimidating the BBC through the use of sham tax raids, and censoring the Modi-critical BBC documentary, “India: The Modi Question.”

“Having routinely resorted to censorship to erase information it doesn’t like, the Modi regime has now taken the final step: creating a dedicated government team to destroy truth and spread lies in India,” said IAMC Executive Director Ahmed. “The harms to India’s information ecosystem will be incalculable if not immediately repealed.”