An Indian parliamentary panel recommended treating social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook like publishers and setting up a regulator to oversee them, potentially exposing companies to greater liability for user-generated content.
The high-level committee made these recommendations when reviewing the personal data protection bill introduced in 2019 which aims to protect user privacy and enforce strict controls on how companies such as Alphabet Inc.’s Google Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. collect, process and store data.
The panel is calling for stricter rules because current laws treating these social media platforms as intermediaries have not done enough in terms of regulation, said the two people who are not authorized to speak to the media. In addition, they said the current provisions of the personal data protection bill are too broad.
People said the committee recommended that the regulator be set up on the model of the Press Council of India to regulate content. A mechanism could be devised for social media platforms to be held accountable for content from unverified accounts, they said.
PP Chaudhary, a lawmaker from the ruling Bharatiya Janata party who heads the panel, said the report’s recommendations will be presented to parliament in the November 29 session. He declined to discuss the contents of the report.
If these recommendations are included in the revised bill and passed by parliament, it could have a huge impact on the operations of public and private companies in the world’s largest social media market. Violations under this bill can be punishable by fines of up to 4% of the annual worldwide turnover of social media companies, similar to sanctions in the European Union.
Such movements echo similar sentiments beyond India. Lawmakers from Washington to Brussels have considered taking action to hold social media companies like Facebook and Google accountable for the enormous content generated daily on their platforms, a view that has gained momentum during the pandemic.
In India, these companies have so far enjoyed safe harbor status and cannot be held responsible for user-generated content on their platform as long as they adhere to the guidelines for intermediaries published earlier this year. year. This has included establishing offices in India, appointing compliance officers and complying with government requests to remove certain types of content that it considers harmful.
Google declined to comment on the panel’s recommendations. Twitter’s Facebook and Meta Platforms Inc. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
India’s rush to adopt smartphones has led to an explosion of personal and sensitive information. However, laws to protect user privacy have not kept pace, raising concerns among activists and civic groups about potential abuse.
It took two years for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to come up with data protection legislation after the Supreme Court ruled that privacy is a basic individual right. The parliamentary panel missed numerous deadlines to complete its report, with lawmakers divided over some of the bill’s provisions. On Monday, the panel finalized the report.
Lawmakers on the panel are in favor of extending the bill’s coverage to non-personal data, the people said. It also recommended that around 24 months be given to implement the provisions of the law so that data-related companies can make the necessary changes to their policies, infrastructure and processes.
The panel also retained the provision that allows the government to grant exemptions to its agencies from certain parts of the legislation, although some lawmakers have expressed reservations about this.