An Indian parliamentary panel has called for the creation of a regulator to oversee social media platforms, bringing their treatment more in line with that of publishers in terms of liability for their content.
According to a report by Bloomberg, the committee made its recommendations after reviewing the personal data protection bill that India brought into effect in 2019. This law is aimed at protecting user privacy and placing strict controls on the collection, storage and use of personal data by internet firms such as Google and Amazon.
The panel argues that since the law treats social media firms as intermediaries, they have thus far avoided responsibility for content published by their users. Speaking on condition of anonymity, Bloomberg’s sources also noted that personal protection bill was not specific enough regarding social media platforms, making regulation too ineffective.
The panel is therefore advocating for tighter controls, including the establishment of a regulator on a par with the Press Council of India with the power to hold social media platforms to account for content published via their channels – particularly from unverified accounts.
Parliament comes into session on 29th November, and the panel’s recommendations will be presented. India is the largest market globally for social media, so if the proposals are passed into law they would have a major impact, allowing authorities to impose penalties of up to 4% of an offending party’s annual global turnover – roughly in line with the penal mechanisms of the European Union.
Currently, social media firms in India are not legally liable for content published by their users as long as they meet the Intermediary Guidelines introduced this year. These include establishing local offices, removing content flagged by the government as ‘harmful’ upon request, and appointing compliance managers.
Widespread and rapid adoption of smartphones in India has seen data growth skyrocket in the market, but the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come under fire for failing to keep step in terms of lawmaking. India’s Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that data privacy is a fundamental right, but it was another two years before any data protection legislation was implemented.
The parliamentary panel has repeatedly delayed its report, only finalising it a few days ago (22nd November). Bloomberg’s sources said that this was due to conflict between lawmakers on the panel over the scope of the bill’s provisions, although they were now broadly agreed that the bill must also cover non-personal data. The panel suggested a two-year implementation period to allow data firms to overhaul their infrastructure, policies and processes.
Google, Twitter and Facebook have thus far not commented on the panel’s recommendations.