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Government Establishes State-appointed Body to Check Government-Related Content Online Deemed as Misinformation or Disinformation

CIO Insider Team | Friday, 7 April, 2023
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According to reports, the Centre notified the establishment of a state-appointed body to fact-check all government-related content online deemed as misinformation or disinformation, a move that drew sharp criticism from internet and free speech activists who said it will lead to censorship.

While the fact-checking unit of the Press Information Bureau (PIB) is the preferred agency for the task, other government-appointed fact-checking organizations may also be notified in future, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, minister of state for electronics and IT.

“The government fact-check body will be responsible only for information related to central government schemes and will send relevant notices informing intermediaries of content that has been deemed misinformation or disinformation by it,” Chandrasekhar adds.

It is not mandatory that one has to take down what the notified organization says, but then you have to deal with it in the court of law.

According to Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), a digital rights organization, the move will have a chilling effect on the fundamental right to speech and expression, particularly on news publishers, journalists and activists.

Assigning any unit of the government such arbitrary, overbroad powers to determine the authenticity of online content bypasses the principles of natural justice, thus making it an unconstitutional exercise.

Chandrasekhar says, “Internet intermediaries that do not agree with the decisions made by the official fact-check body will be free to not take down the content.”

The fact-checking provision is a step forward from the previous draft as the notified clause narrows the powers of the fact-checking body only to the businesses related to the central government

These intermediaries will, however, be deprived of the protections granted to them under Section 79 of the Information Technology (IT) Act, which grants internet intermediaries immunity from content posted by users and other third parties.

Kazim Rizvi, founder of public policy think tank The Dialogue says, “The fact-checking provision is a step forward from the previous draft as the notified clause narrows the powers of the fact-checking body only to the businesses related to the central government. However, the provision requires greater clarity with respect to the exact meaning and ambit of government business.”

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