India online: Gov't and US tech giants at odds over privacy

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Video Transcript

- This raid by the Delhi police on Twitter's office in the Indian capital intensified the recent battle between the tech giant and India's government. The raid came hours after these tweets by a spokesman for the governing [INAUDIBLE] Party, were labeled manipulated media. Twitter is calling it an intimidation tactic and has raised concerns about the safety of its staff in India. The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi responded by saying Twitter is trying to defame the country.

The standoff intensified after Twitter said India's new digital media rules endanger free speech. The rules allow the government to ask companies to identify the first person who sends a message. Some experts say the rules will respect privacy with, quote, reasonable restrictions.

- Now the reason that these rules have come about is for, as I said, they need the chief compliance officer, [INAUDIBLE] officer, grievance officer, and that these platforms have accountability to Indian citizens. Today, they all follow certain policies, processes of their own, with zero accountability in India.

- Still, WhatsApp, whose largest market is India, has now sued the government for overreach, calling the rules unconstitutional. In a statement, the Facebook-owned company said, "requiring messaging apps to trace chats is the equivalent of asking us to keep a fingerprint of every single message sent on WhatsApp, which would break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermines people's right to privacy."

According to the new rules, companies that fail to comply can be prosecuted for content posted on their sites. Experts are calling for further guidance from the Indian courts to specify how and when this authority can be used.

- Because there's a legitimate fear that some of these [INAUDIBLE] could potentially be misused in an appropriate point of time by the appropriate government of the day so as to meet their own ulterior motives.

- Internet freedom advocates have called these rules excessive. They point out that the most important stakeholder, the internet user, should be consulted while making such rules.

- I think the solution lies in deducing the rule of the government and containing the power of the platforms and finding ways to empower users, because the tough ask over here is to prevent harm, but also not to affect our freedoms.

- The rules were passed in February. And while Twitter has asked for a three-month extension, Google says it will comply. Experts say these digital media guidelines have consequences outside India, as well, because how this plays out in court is likely to set a precedent in other countries where big tech and governments have fought on issues of privacy, surveillance, and national security. Parvati [INAUDIBLE], Al Jazeera, New Delhi.