Liability protections to social media giants may go in new law

17 Sep 2023

New Delhi : The Union government is planning to remove hardcoded liability protections for social media companies from the law and instead empower itself to hand out “safe harbour” license-like certifications, people aware of discussions for a sweeping new bill have said, a move that could have far-reaching implications for speech on the web and the policies applying to it.

Social media companies such as Meta and X (formerly Twitter) are classified as intermediaries according to section 79 of the information technology (IT) Act, which effectively makes them immune from the liability of the content their users post, an approach that has been globally accepted. But increasingly, these companies have been under fire for not fulfilling the conditions that the liability protections are offered with, necessitating a rethink.

The proposed Digital India Bill plans to make this immunity tighter by putting in place a mechanism similar to licensing, an official aware of the matter said, adding that the provisions of the law itself will be “technology agnostic”. “The digital India bill will be forward looking,” this person said, asking not to be named.

Prateek Waghre, policy director, Internet Freedom Foundation said this proposal is “without precedent in the democratic world”.