Will the government arm itself with the powers to suspend social media and messaging apps such as Facebook and WhatsApp citing law and order or national security concerns? There seems to be a possibility with the government exploring the option.
According to an Economic Times report, the Department of Telecommunications is seeking the opinion of stakeholders, telecom companies and internet service providers on how they can block Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, among others to stop the undesirable spread of fake news and other information of a nature that could cause an unrest and influence upcoming 2019 general elections.
It is understood that the industry is yet to fully respond with its own suggestions but has thrown the ball back in the ministryâ€™s court. The DoT had addressed a letter in June, then July and now a reminder was sent on August 3, according to sources familiar with the developments.
â€śYou are â€¦requested to explore various possible options and confirm how the Instagram/Facebook/WhatsApp/Telegram and other such mobile apps can be blocked on internet,â€ť DoT reportedly said in a letter dated July 18, which was sent to Telecom companies such as Airtel, Jio, Idea, Vodafone and to industry bodies.
The DoT is reportedly trying to act in coordination with the Ministry of Information Technology in order to gain technological inputs on the issue and to study the feasibility angle. Legally, there is the Section 69A of the IT Act, which gives the government the powers to cut off access to information to the public at large under certain circumstances.
The only response the government seems to have got is from the trade body the Cellular Operators Association of India, COAI, which has sent a half-hearted response saying it is virtually impossible for its members to stop the working of any app on their network. And they are not advancing any suggestions from their end.
ET reports that operators believe that the issue of fake news isnâ€™t only a problem of telecom players though it comes under the intermediary liability under the IT Act, which states that an intermediary is liable for the content it stores on behalf of a user or transmits from one user to another.
The government has been talking to WhatsApp to make changes to its app and work to curb the spreading of fake news. But the IT Ministry is reportedly not satisfied with the changes and actions taken by the social media giant.