Daily Management Review

Doubts Expressed By US Lobby Groups Over Autonomy Of India Content Appeal Panel


According to Reuters, US lobbying groups representing Facebook and Twitter are concerned that India's plan to construct a government tribunal to hear appeals against content moderation rulings will lack independence.
The planned policy change is the latest bone of contention between India and technology behemoths, who have long claimed that stiffer laws harm their business and investment ambitions. It also comes at a time when India is embroiled in a high-profile spat with Twitter, which recently sued the government in a local court to have some material removal orders revoked.
According to the June proposal, social media corporations must comply with a newly constituted government body that will rule on user complaints over content moderation choices. The government has not said who will serve on the panel.
However, the US-India Business Council (USIBC), a division of the US Chamber of Commerce, and the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) have both expressed internal concerns about the plan, citing concerns about how such a panel could act independently if the government controls its formation.
The rules would establish a Grievance Appellate Committee (GAC) "that is wholly controlled by the (IT) Ministry and lacks any checks or balances to maintain independence," according to a July 8 internal letter written to India's IT ministry.
"In the absence of industry and civil society representation, such GACs may result in over regulation from the government."
The new proposal of the Indian authorities was open for public comment until early July, and no implementation date has been announced.
Underscoring its concerns, USIBC pointed out that other countries, such as the European Union, guarantee principles of "fairness and impartiality" in their appeals processes, whereas a government-funded think tank in Canada advocates for "impartial dispute resolution" by a "disinterested professional body."
The other group, USISPF, raised worry internally in a July 6 document, asking "how will its (panel's) independence be ensured?"
USIBC and USISPF represent big technology businesses such as Facebook, Twitter, and Alphabet Inc's Google - companies that frequently get government takedown requests or do proactive content screening.
USIBC, Facebook, and Google declined to comment, while USISPF and Twitter declined to comment. The Indian Ministry of Information Technology did not answer.
According to a senior Indian official, the government is open to not having an appeals panel if corporations band together and develop their own "pretty neutral" self-regulation system for handling consumer complaints.
"If they don't do it, government will have to. The panel is expected to operate independently," said the official.
Last year, tensions between India and Twitter rose when the firm refused to completely comply with instructions to remove accounts that the government claimed were disseminating misinformation. Twitter has also drawn criticism for suspending the accounts of notable Indians, including politicians, alleging policy violations.
Other U.S. technology businesses, including Mastercard, Visa, Amazon, and Walmart's Flipkart, have had a number of concerns with Indian data storage standards, higher compliance requirements, and some foreign investment rules that executives say are protectionist in spirit. more info
According to the Indian government, it was forced to publish the new restrictions in order to establish "new accountability standards" for social media firms.
The suggestions also call for firms to "respect the rights provided to customers under the Constitution of India," without stating specific rights, because companies had "acted in breach" of such rights.
Both the USIBC and the USISPF state in their documents that they feel basic rights cannot be implemented in India in this manner.
"The fundamental rights are not enforceable against private companies ... The rule appears to be broad, and will be difficult to demonstrate compliance," USIBC said.