An alternative to bans. A Letter to MEITY.

Highlights

  • Background: In a PIL filed in the Hon'ble High Court of Madras on April 3, 2019, social networking application "TikTok" was banned. The Hon'ble Supreme Court of India refused to stay the ban against the download of "TikTok" from application stores.  
  • Need for alternative measures to banning: It is necessary to move away from outright bans on applications that provide no resolve and infringe upon the right to freedom of speech and expression and (online) assembly to active policy and regulatory measures for the protection children and young adults online. This can only be done after potential harms are studied scientifically and a rights respecting framework can be developed. Today, we wrote to the Government to urgently start this process with an approach paper and a public consultation.

Background

The recent outright bans such as on popular video game called PUBG in various districts of Gujarat resulted in the arrest of at least 21 young persons and the current ban on a video sharing platform called Tik Tok has resulted in preventing its download from Application Stores appears to be setting a precedent. On April 3, 2019, a PIL in the High Court of Madras led to the ban of Tiktok for its negative impact. Once the Supreme Court of India refused to the stay the order on the ban, MEITY gave further orders to remove the application from the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. As mentioned in our previous post, IFF has taken the next step forward.

Need for Action

Today, we wrote a representation to the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MEITY) in response to this ban [Read it here].  It explains that the ban is a disproportionate reaction to the need to afford protection to children on the internet. Not only does it go against the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a), it also violates the principle laid down by the Shreya Singhal case that protects intermediaries from liability and requires individualised content takedowns pursuant to court and executive orders. Bans by-pass this important protection which came through as a hard fought victory for internet users in India [read more on the Shreya Singhal case here].

We are not closing our eyes to the arguments being made about potential threats to minors on digital platforms. Proceeding towards a state of moral and social panic which leads to bans are the easy way out. It is necessary to take a more informed and calibrated approach with the government proactively laying down best practice norms, monitoring compliance and punishing violators.

Hence, to commence a policy based dialogue, our letter urges MEITY to undertake the three specific actions which may lead to better outcomes.

  1. Adopt a rights respecting stand against “App Bans”: Ensure bans are not imposed in maintaing fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution, judgements of the Supreme Court emerging from Shreya Singhal and Puttaswamy v. Union of India [2017 10 SCC 1].
  2. Commence a transparent consultation process: Engage in a transparent approach or consultation paper inviting public comments on social media, technology and adolescent health as a joint effort with the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
  3. Activate the CRAC: Bring back to life the defunct CRAC (Cyber Regulations Advisory Committee) which has been statutorily tasked under the Information Technology Act, 2000 to provide the function of guidance ensuring that technology is harnessed in a rights respecting framework and meets the challenges of any potential harms.

The letter has been addressed to MEITY with copies marked to the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.

IFF will continue to engage in every possible manner in order to ensure that not only are bans not the defacto response but that the necessary steps forward to the protection of children and young adults on digital platforms is given the necessary push within the framework of digital rights — for their freedom, health and safety.

  • Letter on the safety of minors on digital platform [link]
  • Statement on TikTok by IFF [link]