Google Takes On Indian Parliament
The recommendation of an Indian parliamentary committee threatens to change the wording in proposed legislation that would hold Google and other service providers accountable for content traversing their system.
In the US, interactive computer services and telephone companies are not responsible for the ways in which people use their networks. If two people use email and phone calls to plan a crime, for example, those two people, not the email service provider or the phone company, are held responsible.
Proposed legislation in the Indian Parliament would uphold this principle, except that now the Standing Committee on Information Technology is recommending against wording that removes "intermediaries" from liability:
What is relevant here is that when [the] platform is abused for transmission of allegedly obscene and objectionable contents, the intermediaries/service providers should not be absolved of responsibility.
Google India policy analyst, Rishi Jaitly argues that a small semantic difference could stifle Internet innovation in the country:
[T]he Committee may have believed that the proposed amendment would provide absolute immunity to Internet intermediaries, and wished to stress the need for a clear obligation to react promptly when put on notice of unlawful content. If this was, in fact, the case, the Committee’s intent, its report would be consistent with the proposed amendment, and in line with global best practices. If not, the Committee’s position would likely result in the hobbling of the Internet in India.
Holding intermediaries accountable for how people use their services would require those intermediaries to police content and speech, which brings up another host of issues. Jaitly argues that denying intermediaries safe harbor would crush India’s Internet economy.
The choice for the Indian government is stark: If it wishes to enable Indians to have access to cutting-edge Internet services, and to promote innovation on the Internet, the Department of Information Technology should uphold the principle of qualified safe harbors for Internet intermediaries.