Social Media: Prospect and Challenges

[op-ed snap] Keys to kingdom

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Social media - security vs regulation

Context

In the Supreme Court, a matter related to communication platforms is being debated. 

Debate

  • The matter was originally a plea for regulatory parity between internet telephony platforms and OTT communications providers like WhatsApp.
  • It has turned into a question of national security and the threat to democracy posed by social media platforms.

Social media – security issues 

  • The government’s anxieties about social media date back at least to 2016, when there was a mass exodus of workers from the Northeast from Bengaluru panicked by rumours. 
  • Recently, fake news and lynchings across the country has intensified public fears.
  • Government has told the court that the internet is “a potent tool to cause unimaginable disruption to the democratic polity,” and will publish rules for its regulation in three months.

Internet 

  • It was seen as the democratic force-multiplier of Arab Spring.
  • It has become a foe of democracy — even in the US, where the attorney general has requested Facebook not to deploy software which makes interception impossible.

Issues out of the debate – Technical Issue and Political

  • This turns the spotlight to the two issues, technical and political. 
  • Technically, it would mean rolling back or compromising end to end encryption, which would affect the data security of everyone, and not only suspects.
  • This would represent a huge step back for privacy as a right. 
  • Dismantling or bypassing encryption could work in a climate of political probity where they limit their attention to legitimate targets only. 
  • But if governments snoop obsessively and take arbitrary action, it becomes a cause of concern.
  • Social media companies have shown a reluctance to police content, and Mark Zuckerberg’s speech at Georgetown University last week spelled it out explicitly. 
  • They have opened the door to governments seeking increased access to private communications, in the interest of public safety — and now of democracy.

Issue with governments 

  • Governments in India have shown themselves to be incompetent and malignant by incarcerating harmless citizens arbitrarily for trivial communications, wilfully misreading satire as sedition and weaponising the law.
  • This has continued even after Section 66A of the Information Technology Act was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, on the ground that it offered too much latitude. 

Conclusion 

Governments must demonstrate that they are able guardians of citizens’ data before they demand the security keys.

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