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Terror on the Web: India Should Take a Cue From Tough British, French stance

Terror on the Web: India Should Take a Cue From Tough British, French stance
Leaders pose for a picture during the G7 Summit in Taormina, Sicily, Italy. Photo: UNI
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The Supreme Court is looking into two critical areas of internet issues at this point of time. The first is regarding child sex abuse videos on the net and second is about privacy matters, especially regarding Whatsapp. Both enter last stages of hearing and judgements are expected next month after the court reopens.

There is possibly a lesson to be learnt in British Prime Minister Theresa May’s method of dealing with terror propaganda on the net.

In their recent bilateral meeting in Paris, May and French president Emmanuel Macron not only called for tech companies such as Google and Facebook to do more to curb “poisonous propaganda” from terrorist outfits, they have taken a tough stance too. They have agreed that they would be creating “a new legal liability for tech companies” if they fail to remove inflammatory content, say media reports. Such penalties would include fines.

If the freedom of speech argument fails to apply to such penalties in more open societies, it is possibly high time India adopt certain measures that lead to legitimising content on the web.

Fighting terrorism has been the refrain of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in every foreign visit he undertakes, but ground realities back home do not see much activity reflecting that heavy posturing. That terror initiatives lurk within the deep web is a known fact. Yet, India has sadly not been able to formulate enough securities and legal frameworks in handling this.

The Supreme Court has in its ambit a restricted set of somewhat outdated laws to deal with and the UK-France initiative could be closely followed to see how some of the same can be incorporated into the Indian system.

Not that such efforts have not seen backlashes from society in the UK and France. Macron wants to allow security services access to encrypted communication, a key to look into encrypted communication between extremists. Privacy campaigners have said that this will not only allow security establishments to look into private communication, but will also enable hackers to move in.

Technically Facebook, Google, YouTube and others have virtually thrown up their hands in the cases that the Supreme Court of India has been handling. There is no way of scanning the hundreds of thousands of messages and videos that are uploaded every hour, they claimed. Not only that, if their web crawlers are to identify criminal activity, they need to break into encrypted messages, which will create another set of legal problems, they say.

UK is, however, determined to put pressure on Facebook and such other social media companies and it is drawing its strength from discussions at the the G7 meeting in Sicily last month.

After the Paris bilateral meeting May reportedly said: “Our discussions today have focussed on the greatest security challenge our two countries face – tackling terrorism and rooting out the extremism that fuels it.”

The leaders have agreed that tech companies should “abide by their social responsibility to… remove harmful content from their networks.”

—India Legal Bureau

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