Wikimedia Foundation raises concerns over proposed intermediary liability rules in India

The government told the Supreme Court that the intermediary rules will be finalised by January 2020.
Wikimedia Foundation raises concerns over proposed intermediary liability rules in India
Wikimedia Foundation raises concerns over proposed intermediary liability rules in India
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The Wikimedia Foundation, in a letter to Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, raised concerns about the implications of the proposed intermediary liability rules that would affect many companies, including Wikipedia, which the foundation runs. 

The letter, written by Wikimedia’s general counsel Amanda Keton, follows up on the draft Intermediary rules laid out by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology in December 2018, following which a coalition of organisations wrote a letter to the minister, outlining their concerns about the effects on freedom of expression and innovation. 

An intermediary, in this case, would be any party that receives, stores or transmits that record or provides any service — could be the internet service provider, search engine, web-hosting service providers, etc. In 2018, the government release rules to govern these intermediaries.

“Unfortunately, it has been nearly a year since the official consultation on these draft rules was closed, but neither participants in the consultation nor the public have seen a new draft of these rules since that time. We trust the Ministry has taken the valid concerns that we and many others have raised into account when revising the draft rules,” the letter said, adding that they wanted the Ministry to release its current draft and invite comments on the same. 

Some of the things the draft Intermediary Liability Rules include are directing the intermediary to provide any assistance to a government agency or to the state within 72 hours of communication. It also states that intermediaries with over 50 lakh users in India need to have a permanent registered office in India and appoint a nodal person of contact to coordinate with law enforcement. “The intermediary shall enable tracing out of such originator of information on its platform as may be required by government agencies who are legally authorised,” the draft rules state. 

The letter written by Keton states that the negative effects of the Rules could be mitigated by the recently introduced Personal Data Protection Bill, which lays out the different guidelines for significant data fiduciaries.

“Yet, even with such an approach we remain concerned about requirements which encourage or necessitate automated filtering of user uploads, either explicitly or implicitly through short takedown times, and could severely disrupt the availability and reliability of Wikipedia,” the letter stated. 

The Ministry had told the Supreme Court that these rules, which were released in December 2018, would be finalised by January 2020. According to reports, it will be finalised by January 15, 2020.

In its letter, talking about the effect these rules would have on Wikimedia, Keton says that the removal of content or uploaded material would be an “unreasonable burden” on a non-profit with limited resources.

“Rules which require the removal of content or cooperation with law enforcement within short time periods could also prove impracticable without significant additional investments in either new employees or technology. We fear that such burdens will consume vital resources that would otherwise be directed to providing access to knowledge and reliable, neutral information to Indian citizens,” it said. 

The rules, which require traceability, is a matter that is currently being heard by the Supreme Court. It is in this matter that the Ministry said that the rules would be finalised soon.

The letter further stated that imposing traceability “is a serious threat to freedom of expression” which could interfere with ability of Wikipedia editors to contribute freely. 

“ is also crucial for the safety of Wikipedia contributors who contribute or moderate content on sensitive topics, or who contribute from regions where their personal safety could be at risk for editing Wikipedia. Requiring websites to track their users will discourage free communications and has the potential to even discourage legal economic activity on the internet, especially in countries where online censorship is prevalent —  but not only there,” it further added. 

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