The Indian government may arm itself with more powers under the IT Act to pull down apps and offending websites. This is at the proposal stage right now and may be formalised soon.
This move is being seen as an offshoot of the discussions the government has held with major companies with some stake or the other in the issues involved. The two areas that have been highlighted are child pornography and spread of fake news.
As a first step, the government wanted sites like WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter to institute a mechanism where the origin of any fake news can be identified and arraigned before the law enforcement. But there were reservations expressed by these organisations that they donâ€™t have such a mechanism in place. The government now feels that the only alternative is to bring the site itself down by forcing the service providers like telcos and ISPs.
â€śWe need accountability and power to heavily penalise the companies in case of violations, or refusal to cooperateâ€ť. This is how an official of the government is reported to have said on the issue. The areas where the government and in turn the political party in power have issues with the social media sites, are content deemed interfering with politics and elections, besides the child porn related content.
Meanwhile, the government is also working on a data protection bill on the lines of the GDPR in Europe and taking a leaf out of GDPR, the penalties being proposed in the data protection law are quite steep, Rs 15 crore or 4% of the worldwide turnover. Now there is a hint that similar fines and penalties may be brought to the IT Act, which violators of the above-mentioned categories may have to face.
That the IT Act as it exists is inadequate to meet the needs to regulate the industry is being voiced by many and at the government level too. But there is no concrete proposal yet on the table describing what is considered a violation and how it will be dealt with.
Closing down a website or removing access to an app completely may sound like extreme actions, but one will have to wait and see what shape the amendments to the IT Act will take.