The government of India is considering making it essential for digital fact-checking sites to register with the government as part of the future Digital India Bill, according to the report of Indian Express. As has been reported, this is part of the government’s aim to demand greater accountability from the aforementioned platforms. It was also stated that the idea is being considered as a significant element in the future Digital India Bill, which will be the successor to India’s core Internet law.
According to a senior official quoted in the report by the Indian Express, the said step could be a phased process with legacy outlets being allowed to obtain registration in the first phase.
“The ministry is in the final stages of drafting the Bill. For fact checkers, there is a consideration that they should be registered with the government. There is also a plan to not register ‘non-legacy’ fact checking bodies,” the official had said.
The report also provided that the Bill is likely to categorize different sorts of internet intermediaries, including fact-checking portals, as the Centre intends to prescribe distinct laws to different types of intermediaries. And under these laws and rules to be prescribed, the provision of seeking registration from the government might be included as it has been understood.
It is important to highlight that the impending Digital India Bill is a crucial component of the government’s “comprehensive legal framework” for the internet sector, which will be replacing the decades old the Information Technology Act, 2000. It also comprises a draft Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022, a proposed Indian Telecommunications Bill, 2022, and a policy for non-personal data governance and handling. Notably, the draft of the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, which was released by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on November 18, 2022 to invite public comments, contained a provision which proposed to amend the Right to Information Act, 2005. Clause 30(2) of the draft proposed an amendment to Section 8(j) of the RTI Act, which will have the effect of totally exempting personal information from disclosure.
The Indian Express had previously stated that under the new Bill, the IT Ministry might include deliberate misrepresentation, doxxing, impersonation, identity theft, catfishing, and cyberbullying of children under definition of offenses. The Bill will also cover user problems associated with developing technologies, such as generative AI platforms like ChatGPT and Google’s Bard. The Bill could also upend some of the core ideas that currently govern online platforms, such as revising safe harbour regulations.
Over the last few months, the Centre has made many attempts and has been striving to tighten its grip around fact-checking internet content. A proposed amendment to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, made it mandatory for all intermediaries, including social media platforms, to ensure that any news article identified as “fake or false” by the Press Information Bureau’s Fact Check Unit is not allowed on their platform.
Content warned by the government authority would have to be removed by online intermediaries such as social media platforms as a condition for ensuring safe harbour, the legal immunity they have over third-party content. The measure has sparked widespread criticism, including a legal case, with calls to rescind it.
A deeper analysis of how the said surveillance regime violates both Privacy & Right to Life can be read here.