Congress Says New Rules Aimed at Stifling Free Speech, Terrorising Social Media

New Delhi: Criticising the new intermediary rules for social media as “draconian”, the Congress on Wednesday demanded that the government shed its “Big Daddy” approach and not stifle free speech and expression which are like oxygen in a democracy. Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi alleged that the new rules are aimed at terrorising the social media and strangulating free thought and expression in the arena which “the BJP and the Modi government now see as a threat to them”.

He, however, said the Congress has not taken a policy decision yet on whether to move court against the new rules. “This is complete censorship, complete thought control, complete terrorising of the social media and complete control freak,” he told reporters.

He said free speech and expression, including on messaging platforms on social media, “is the vital oxygen for democracy” to enable it to survive. “We implore you Modi ji, we implore you BJP, one oxygen during COVID times you have diminished, please don’t do it to the oxygen of democracy… Please don’t strangulate it, please don’t asphyxiate it,” he said.

The Congress leader alleged that the new rules have hit a severe blow to the vibrant culture of discourse, deliberations and dissent in a democracy like India. “The new intermediary rules are dire, drastic and draconian in nature. The issuance of new guidelines reflects that the BJP government is suffering from the ‘Big Daddy’ syndrome and North Korean approach to free speech,” Singhvi said.

On a possible legal challenge, he said, “No policy decision has been taken on whether to move court or not. We may or may not go to court.” However, the Congress will educate society and tell people what this government is doing and what is its thought process, he said. Questioning the government, he said it cannot dictate to anyone which social media platforms to use and asked “whether we were living in China or a dictatorial regime like North Korea”.

He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been a “master” of the social media platform and flaunted it. “You have to take the good and the bad together. You can’t want only the good and deny the bad. That only an ostrich can do with the head in the sand,” he said. He said that 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) and this introduces the requirement of traceability which would break end-to-end encryption. “End-to-end encryption is the technological backbone of privacy,” he noted, asserting that the Congress condemns such rules by any government.

Singhvi also said the party was not satisfied with the action taken by Twitter, as it believes the action should be against many others.

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