The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has raised objections to the proposal by the union government to regulate internet platforms. As per an Economic Times report, the main opponents to the move are incumbent operators, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone, while interestingly the other major player and new entrant, Reliance Jio, has no problem with the government’s move.
The government’s Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) has taken up a proposal to amend the Information Technology Act or the IT Act, to introduce a clause where the intermediary will also be held responsible for carrying information on their platforms that may be in the form of fake news. Now, the COAI feels that there is lack of clarity and says the very amendment “could be detrimental to citizens, democracy and free speech”.
More importantly, their objection relates to the lack of clarity in the intermediary guidelines and their wordings. Their fear is that such lack of clarity could lead to misinterpretation of the law by the enforcement agencies with serious consequences to the intermediaries. They fear that they could be thrown out of their businesses on flimsy grounds if the proposed amendments to the law are carried out. Their contention is, as intermediaries they may be held accountable even in cases of inadvertence. A sense of arbitrariness could be infused in the whole scenario, they feel.
The COAI has written a letter to this effect to the ministry hoping there may be a reconsideration. Reliance Jio, meanwhile, says ‘platforms should not be allowed to become conduits of unlawful activities that incite hatred and spark terrorism and extremism’ in its reaction to the move.
Clearly there is a divide among the operators on this issue. There is already a provision in the law that mandates that carriers have to report, within 72 hours, the details of origin of such posts which qualify to be called fake news or posts that incite hatred or violence and so on.