Modi Govt’s North Korean Approach to Free Speech: Congress

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Congress party leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi, RS MP & Spokesperson AICC, addressed the media at Congress HQ in New Delhi (Photo: IANS)

‘Modiji has now turned his attention to social media and social media platforms to annihilate all vestiges of free speech, thought, and expression,’ Singhvi said

NEW DELHI – After WhatsApp filed a lawsuit against the Indian government in the Delhi High Court, saying that user privacy is in its DNA and requiring messaging apps to “trace” chats undermines people’s right to privacy, Congress has termed the social media rules issued by the government as “draconian” and said it’s “Modi government’s North Korean approach to free speech”.

Addressing a press conference on Wednesday, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, senior spokesperson of the party, said, “The new intermediary rules issued by the Modi government are dire, drastic and draconian in nature. The issuance of new intermediary guidelines reflect that the BJP government is suffering from the ‘Big Daddy’ syndrome.”

The Congress said the new rules are a severe blow to the vibrant culture of discourse, deliberation and dissent in India, that the Modi government seeks to implement today, without recall or modification and despite unanimous condemnation from all segments of civil and political society. It is the “Modi government’s North Korean approach to free speech.”

“Free speech and expression is like oxygen. Without it, humanity and democracy cannot survive. Having diminished the latter so much during COVID, we beseech the Modi government not to emasculate the former. Let us not forget that encryption is the technological backbone of privacy. This is particularly true of messaging apps, the most important subset of social media and digital platforms,” Singhvi said.

He said it is an attempt by the Modi government to capture and subordinate every pillar and agency of freedom of thought and expression. Having successfully done so in respect of constitutional and statutory bodies like CBI, ED, EC and several others, along with subjugation of the ‘Godi Media’, Singhvi said.

“Modiji has now turned his attention to social media and social media platforms to annihilate all vestiges of free speech, thought, and expression,” Singhvi added.

The Congress leader said that the dictatorial regimes, including the North Korean one, would blush at the brazenness with which the Modi government has done so. The Modi-led BJP government’s pathshala should be the new go-to place for all dictators to hone their skills in controlling free speech and thought, he said.

“When these Intermediary Rules were published on 25.05.2021, the heart and soul of their highly objectionable approach was reflected in Rule 4, which would be actionable after three months, ie from today. During this time, every protest, every entreaty, every demand and every request for recall and modification of such asphyxiating rules have been ignored by this obstinate government and thrown into the dustbin,” he further said.

He said from today, Rule 4 obliges all social media platforms to identify the first originator of the information, if so directed by the government under Rule 4(2). This introduces the requirement of traceability which would break end-to-end encryption. It should be noted that even previous proposals which seek to implement traceability in a manner which is supposedly compatible with end to end encryption have been shown to be vulnerable to spoofing where bad actors can falsely modify the originator information to frame an innocent person.

The grounds for such draconian directions have deliberately been kept delightfully vague, including Rule 4(2) which allows an order to be passed “for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, or public order…”, the Congress leader said. -IANS

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