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Freedom of Expression in India: Key Research and Findings

Posted by Torsha Sarkar at Jun 02, 2020 09:20 AM |
Over the last two years, CIS has carried out critical research on the issue of freedom of expression in India. We have continued our work on intermediary liability, as well as expanded our expertise to emerging areas, like online extreme speech. Researchers have also closely tracked developments around internet shutdowns, and the impact of social media and data on democratic processes in the country.

 

Content Regulation and Intermediary Liability

  1. In December 2018, the Indian government released the draft Intermediary Guidelines, a set of rules, when notified, will be applicable to a host of internet services, like internet service providers and social media platforms. The rules propose mandating automated filtering of content, “traceability” of content, and decrease the time available for services to respond to content takedown requests. CIS’ response analyses the constitutionality of these proposals, and examines their effect on the exercise of freedom of expression in India (link).
  2. Akriti Bopanna and Gayatri Puthran compared these rules to the Manila Principles of on intermediary liability, a civil-society effort that identified the best practices in this regard (link).
  3. Torsha Sarkar took a deep dive into content takedown timeframes (link), which considers the question of appropriate time frame for an intermediary to respond to a government content removal request.
  4. Gurshabad Grover analysed the constitutional and technical concerns surrounding the draft Intermediary Guidelines, including the issues arising from usage of vague terms in the law (link).
  5. Torsha Sarkar critically examined some of the changes proposed in the draft Intermediary Guidelines, including the proposed use of automated tools and the shortened turnaround time, and recommended ways of reconciling these issues within the present intermediary liability framework (link).
  6. Sunil Abraham evaluated the underlying rationale behind enacting intermediary liability laws and argued that in light of the recent consolidation of power by the incumbents, it needs rethinking (link).
  7. Torsha Sarkar and Gurshabad Grover considered commentator opinions questioning the constitutionality of the content takedown regime under Section 69A of the IT Act (and the Blocking Rules issued under it), whether originators of content are entitled to a hearing and whether Rule 16 of the Blocking Rules, which mandates confidentiality of content takedown requests received by intermediaries from the Government, continues to be operative (link).
  8. Gurshabad Grover critically analysed the confidentiality requirement embedded within Section 69A of the IT Act and argued how this leads to internet users in India experiencing arbitrary censorship (link). 
 

Elections, Democracy and Media

  1. Last October saw the release of Amber Sinha’s book, The Networked Public: How Social Media is Changing Democracy, which looks at how networks exert unchecked power in subverting political discourse and polarizing the public in India. Learn more about this book (link) and watch Amber discuss the book with Arindrajit Basu and Vidushi Marda (link).
  2. In partnership with Tactical Technology Collective’s Our Data Our Selves project, Elonnai Hickok produced a report about digital platforms, technologies, and data in the general elections in India (link).
  3. Torsha Sarkar and Gurshabad Grover along with Rajashri Seal and Neil Trivedi examined the constitutionality of the government prohibition on the broadcast of news on private and community FM channels, and how this prohibition has adverse effects on public participation. Read their paper (link), published in the NLUD Journal of Legal Studies, or hear them discuss this on our podcast InFlux (link).
  4. Torsha Sarkar and Gurshabad Grover, along with Suhaan S, collected comprehensive information about transparency reporting practices of six online intermediaries, and developed a methodology to analyse this data (link).
  5. Amber Sinha also contributed a chapter focused on the personalization of targeted content to India International Centre’s IIC Quarterly Winter 2018 – Spring 2019 volume, Social Media in a Networked World.
  6. Swaraj Barooah examined how internet platforms in today’s age are creating new, and perhaps damaging structural changes to how our society functions (link).
  7. Sunil Abraham emphasized the need to have robust transparency regulations in place to build accountability into the decisions made by social media, including those related to political advertisements and viral content (link).
  8. Sunil Abraham cautioned against over-regulating social media platforms based on its impact on a portion of digitally illiterate citizenry, and instead offers some mitigations and factors that the regulator should concern itself with (link). 
 

Internet Shutdowns

  1. CIS published a collection of stories of the impact of internet shutdowns on people's lives in the country, called Internet Shutdown Stories (link). The accounts provided by  101 Reporters, highlight experiences from Jammu & Kashmir, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Telangana, West Bengal, Tripura, Manipur, Nagaland, and Uttar Pradesh. This work was funded by MacArthur Foundation and Facebook.

  2. Ambika Tandon and Gurshabad Grover were guests on The Guardian’s Chips with Everything podcast, where they spoke about the personal, legal and societal fallout of government-ordered shutdowns (link).

  3. On ETV Bharat, Gurshabad wrote about legal and commercial dimensions of the internet shutdown in Kashmir (link). This article was then translated into Gujarati (link), Hindi (link), Kannada (link), Odia (link) and Urdu (link).

  4. In The Hindu, Aayush Rathi and Akriti Bopanna wrote about how legislative backing is being appropriated to normalize communication shutdowns in Kashmir (link).

Extreme Speech Online

  1. In partnership with Scroll and Sahana Udapa, we ran a series of essays about extreme speech online (link). CIS researchers contributed pieces about understanding misinformation (link) and recommending an ecosystem and multi-stakeholder approach in dealing with extreme speech online (link, link).

  2. CIS analysed the Christchurch Call (link) issued by the Prime Minister of New Zealand, and was subsequently invited to join the Christchurch Call Advisory Network (link).

  3. Elonnai Hickok and Tanaya Rajwade responded to the call for suggestions on the Terrorist Content Analytics Platform (TCAP), which was issued by Tech Against Terrorism, with support from the Government of Canada. 

  4. Elonnai Hickok and Tanaya Rajwade responded to the Christchurch Crisis Protocol. 

We would like to thank the MacArthur Foundation and Facebook India for their support.

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