India demands social networks 'swiftly' remove all CSAM

X, YouTube, and Telegram told to make it happen, or feel the wrath of 'zero tolerance' regime

India's Ministry for Electronics and IT has issued notices to X, YouTube and Telegram, warning them to remove child sexual abuse material (CSAM) from their platforms on the Indian internet.

The warnings – announced last Friday but sent at an unknown time – "emphasize the importance of prompt and permanent removal or disabling of access to any CSAM on their platforms" and "call for the implementation of proactive measures, such as content moderation algorithms and reporting mechanisms, to prevent the dissemination of CSAM in the future."

The announcement from the Ministry (MEITY) was endorsed by minister for electronics and information technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who warned "There will be ZERO #tolerance for criminal & #harmful content on Indian #Internet. If Intermediaries do not act swiftly to clean up such content, then #SafeHarbour enshrined under Section 79 of the IT Act would be withdrawn & consequences under the Indian Laws will follow."

That's a significant threat – Section 79 shields social networks from liability for their users' actions.

Ironically, the quote above was posted on X.

The Register has asked the minister why only X, YouTube and Telegram were targeted, given that the three carry only a subset of CSAM. The plan to cleanse the Indian internet seem a little ambitious if it's restricted to three platforms.

Indeed, the Indian government statement announcing the despatch of the notices quotes Chandrasekhar as saying "The Government is determined to build a safe and trusted internet under the IT rules. The IT rules under the IT Act lays down strict expectations from social media intermediaries that they should not allow criminal or harmful posts on their platforms." The statement repeats the requirement for the three social networks to "act swiftly."

India has threatened to use the section before without proceeding to sanction a social network, with some success. In 2021, for example, the nation's government threatened X with losing its Section 79 exemption for not complying with content moderation requirements. Twitter, as it was then named, appeared to take steps to comply.

X's current owner, Elon Musk, has less regard for operating robust public safety processes. Telegram operates from Dubai – a jurisdiction it finds agreeable. YouTube will be easier for India to engage, as its parent company Alphabet has a large local presence and is involved in many local projects.

The Register has also asked MEITY to define its requirement for "prompt" action and to act "swiftly," to understand the nature of the obligation it has imposed on the three targeted services. It's impossible to oppose the intent of any crackdown on CSAM – but important to understand if such action is feasible and likely to make a positive difference.

Note, also, that Facebook India reportedly feared acting against a network of inauthentic accounts - allegedly run by India's Army - that posted material supportive of a crackdown in Muslim-majority Kashmir, to evade government sanctions. India's internet contains plenty more hateful material. Yet New Delhi has now signaled a crackdown on CSAM on just three services.

We'll report any response we receive, but our experience is that Indian government agencies and ministers are very poor correspondents. ®

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