As a country with the second highest number of internet users, India has been battling with internet regulations and censorship for years. Even though they are not as extreme as China in terms of internet censorship, the Indian government is facing challenges regarding internet service regulations and their impact on democracy in the country.
India’s Concerns Over Democracy
India has recently confirmed their plans to revise the existing regulations of intermediaries such as social media networks and apps that could be causing a disruption to democracy.
Namely, the government is concerned about the threats to individual rights caused by the poor regulation of such intermediaries. Their Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology is expected to formulate the new rules by January 15th of 2020.
According to the last year’s draft of guidelines published by the Indian government, these rules should impact any service that has over five million users. Networks of this size are considered a potential tool to disrupt democracy and cause unwanted reactions among citizens.
Moreover, stricter regulations of social media networks and apps will contribute to reducing and potentially stopping the circulation of fake news and other types of false information.
Potential Consequences on Internet Security
All the recent activity regarding the regulation of internet services in India comes as a result of an ongoing case filed by Facebook. Namely, Facebook is trying to prevent the Indian government from forcing WhatsApp (Facebook’s messaging application) to reveal the secured messages exchanged on the platform.
WhatsApp is known for their strong encryption of text messages that keeps users’ data protected against hackers and other third parties such as governments and internet providers. However, the Indian government is all for internet transparency and the extra encryption is not something they approve of.
With India being one of WhatsApp’s largest markets with over 400 million users, the government’s internet regulations will leave a significant impact on the platform. Facebook is strictly against removing message encryption because that would expose users’ private content and go against WhatsApps policy in general.
There have been suggestions for social media platforms to adopt the Indian biometric ID system in order to ensure privacy while allowing the government to stay in control. Over 1.2 billion people in India are a part of the system that ties them to Aadhaar – a 12-digit biometric ID code issues by the government.
Overall, the development of technology in India has led to massive economic growth but it has also exposed users to numerous threats, from hate speech and fake news to security incidents and hacks. The government’s concern over their citizens’ individual rights can be justified in one hand.
On the other hand, strict internet censorship and regulations that require removing encryption protocols could seriously compromise the privacy of over 600 million internet users in India.