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Internet behind rise in ‘hate speech’ and anti-national activities, says Modi govt in SC

In a 27-page affidavit submitted Tuesday, electronics and IT ministry told SC it will finalise rules for better regulation of social media by January 2020.

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New Delhi: The Modi government has told the Supreme Court that with the increasing use of internet and social media, there has been an “exponential rise in hate speech, fake news, public order, anti-national activities, defamatory postings, and other unlawful activities”, while seeking more time to finalise ways to curb social media.

In a 27-page affidavit submitted Tuesday, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) told the court it would finalise rules for better regulation of social media by 15 January 2020.

In its affidavit, the government has claimed that internet has emerged as a “potent tool to cause unimaginable disruption to the democratic polity” and that it was felt that the rules needed to be revised for effective regulation of intermediaries in view of “every growing threat to individual rights and nation’s integrity, sovereignty and security”.

A bench headed by Justice Deepak Gupta had in September asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta if the central government was indeed ready to come out with intermediary guidelines for internet use in the country.

In its affidavit, the government has noted that it was not able to finalise the rules as they will need the approval of Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, which will then have to be vetted by the Ministry of Law and Justice. After the approval, the draft will be updated on the MeITY website, followed by the notification of the rules.

The affidavit notes that close to 170 responses were received after the draft rules were put up on its website. However, no finality could be achieved even though inter-ministerial meetings were conducted.

Also read: Modi govt plans media policy to ensure people get its message right 

Govt wants stricter regulation of Facebook, Whatsapp

The Modi government is also advocating for stricter regulation of social media apps such as Facebook and WhatsApp, arguing that the right to privacy is not absolute.

On Tuesday, Mehta told the bench that the government is completely against invading anyone’s privacy but this cannot become a shielding spot for terrorists.

“We support the right to privacy but this right cannot be absolute and needs to be seen with national security, sovereignty of the country,” Mehta argued before a two-judge bench. “Can a terrorist claim a right to privacy? Should terror activities be protected in the guise of privacy?”

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the social media companies, argued that the nine-judge verdict in the Right to Privacy case was enough to take care of such a situation.

The arguments occurred as the Internet Freedom Association told the bench that the social media guidelines will directly impact the right to privacy.

The Supreme Court Tuesday also directed that all cases concerning regulation of social media should be transferred to it from various high courts in the country. The order was passed in the transfer petition filed by Facebook and WhatsApp seeking transfer of various pending cases to the Supreme Court.

Also read: Trump’s 2019 and George Orwell’s ‘1984’ have too much in common 


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