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20 April 2023: Fake News and Misinformation

Why in the news:

The Government of India introduced a new set of measures for crushing fake news and misinformation on the internet by introducing amendments to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021.

About changes-

These amendments give power to the government to create a fake check unit, which identifies the frivolous or misleading information present on online platforms that interferes with any business of the government. The rules required social media platforms to provide technological solutions that would enable them to identify the first originator of any information on their service. But this is against the principle of end-to-end encryption and the right to privacy.

Effects-

Due to new guidelines, now the government itself can decide which information is bogus and can get powers of censorship by compelling intermediaries to take down false or fake reports. This clause might create problems in a democratic country where information is free and the right to freedom is constitutionally guaranteed.

Who is an intermediary?

An intermediary under the law refers to any person who receives, stores or transmits electronic records. It includes Internet service providers, search engines, and social media platforms.

About Rules-

It was introduced in 2021. The rules are divided into two parts.

  1. Rules sought to regulate intermediaries through the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.
  2. Rules sought to regulate digital news media, including OTT( over-the-top) media services like Netflix, through the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

Case study on solution

In Whitney v. California, the US Supreme Court observed that the remedy to be applied is more speech and not enforced silence.

Constitutional provisions-

Article 19(1)(a) grants every citizen the right to freedom of speech and expression. This can only be limited through reasonable restrictions made by law under Art. 19(2). Article 19(2) contains the grounds on which reasonable restrictions can be imposed. These grounds are sovereignty and integrity of India; security of the state; public order; decency or morality; contempt of court; defamation; and incitement to an offence. So according to it, fake news and misinformation are not grounds on which speech can be limited. But the formation of Fast Check Units gives the government limitless powers to decide what is true and what is false.

Landmark cases: In Shreya Singhal v. Union of India (2015), the Supreme Court struck down Section 66 A of the IT Act and also held that a law that limits speech can neither be vague nor overly broad.

Limitations of these amendments:

  1. These changes fail to define fake news.
  2. The government’s fact-check units make declarations with respect to any business; the word business is open-ended here.