US lobby groups question independence of India’s content appeal board

  • India’s proposed new changes to IT rules have tech giants worried
  • India wants government panel for users unhappy with content moderation
  • Lobby groups affected by government panel training materials
  • Policy change latest discontent between India and Big Tech

NEW DELHI, July 20 (Reuters) – U.S. lobby groups representing Facebook and Twitter fear India’s plan to form a government panel to hear appeals against content moderation rulings will lack independence, according to sources. documents seen by Reuters.

The proposed policy change is the latest flashpoint between India and tech giants who have claimed for years that tighter regulations are hurting their business and investment plans. Read more

It also comes as India clashes with Twitter in a high-profile spat, which recently saw the social media company sue the government in local court to revoke certain content removal orders. Read more

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The June proposal requires social media companies to comply with a newly formed government panel that will adjudicate user complaints against content moderation decisions. The government did not specify who would be on the panel.

But the US-India Business Council (USIBC), part of the US Chamber of Commerce, and the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF), have both raised concerns internally, saying the plan raises concerns about how such a panel could act independently if the government controls its formation.

The rules will create a Grievance Appeals Committee (GAC) “which is wholly controlled by the Department (of IT) and has no checks or balances to ensure independence,” the USIBC said in a statement. July 8 internal letter to India’s Department of Informatics.

“Without representation from industry and civil society, these GACs can lead to over-regulation by government.”

The new Indian proposal was open for public consultation until early July and no fixed date for implementation has been set.

Highlighting its concerns, the USIBC noted that other countries such as the European Union ensure the principles of “fairness and fairness” in its appeals process, while a government-funded think tank in Canada recommends “impartial dispute resolution” by a “disinterested professional body.”

The other group, the USISPF, also raised internal concerns in a document dated July 6, questioning “how the independence of its (group) will be ensured”.

Together, USIBC and USISPF represent leading technology companies such as Facebook (META.O), Twitter (TWTR.N) and Google of Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) – companies that often receive requests government takedown or proactively review content.

USIBC, Facebook and Google did not respond to requests for comment, while USISPF and Twitter declined to comment. India’s IT ministry did not respond.

A senior Indian official told Reuters on Wednesday the government was prepared to have no appeals board if companies got together and formed their own “fairly neutral” self-regulatory system to resolve user issues.

“If they don’t, the government will have to. The panel should operate independently,” the official said.

Tension erupted between India and Twitter last year when the company refused to fully comply with orders to remove accounts the government said were spreading false information. Twitter has also faced backlash for blocking accounts of influential Indians, including politicians, citing violations of its policies. Read more

Other US tech companies such as Mastercard (MA.N), Visa (VN), Amazon (AMZN.O) and Walmart (WMT.N) Flipkart have encountered numerous issues with India’s data storage policies, as well as stricter compliance requirements. because some rules on foreign investment, according to many leaders, are protectionist in nature. Read more

The Indian government said it was forced to announce the new rules in a bid to set “new accountability standards” for social media giants.

Without specifying what rights, the proposals also call on the companies to “respect the rights guaranteed to users by the Constitution of India”, as the companies have “acted in violation” of these rights.

USIBC and USISPF note in their papers that they believe basic rights in India cannot be enforced in this way.

“Fundamental rights are not enforceable against private business…The rule appears to be broad and it will be difficult to demonstrate compliance,” the USIBC said.

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Reporting by Aditya Kalra and Munsif Vengattil in New Delhi Editing by Shri Navaratnam

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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