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The Surveillance State and New Digital Media Rules

Amidst the global pandemic and the consequent ‘new normal,’ our lives have drastically shifted online. As a result, data surveillance and censorship got primarily justified as a response to the infodemic. In India, a recent and significant policy shaped the discourse around technology and surveillance in the year 2021 - the New Digital Media Rules. In this article, we shall try to dissect State Surveillance and understand how the factors associated with the new digital media rules affect our daily lives and the information we produce and/or consume.


● State Surveillance is often defined as a government's tracking, collection, and/or manipulation of personal data for vested interests. This might involve watching internet activities, monitoring location through Bluetooth or Global Positioning System, recording banking transactions, surveillance footage, facial readings, and biometric data gathering.

● Several studies on surveillance have focused on its use by authoritarian governments as a weapon to resist internal political challenges, as surveillance allows for the identification of dissidents and the collection of intelligence, which allows for concentrated oppression.

● The new digital media regulations require social media firms such as WhatsApp to identify provenance when needed by authorities. According to their concern, the end-to-end encryption may be compromised, putting users' privacy at risk. Social media giant Twitter has expressed worries about the new IT standards' impact on freedom of speech. However, if driven by ethics of transparency and free speech, it would try to adhere to the laws.

● Regulations also apply to digital news organizations and video-streaming services like Netflix and JioTV. This gives the government additional ability to control and reclassify content online.

● There are also a number of concerns associated with the development of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies for censorship, including the fact that AI is still immature and imperfect. Particularly concerning is the fact that artificial intelligence aims to regulate and monitor a user's basic right to freedom of expression. It is important to think carefully about whether AI should be permitted to govern the basic rights of people.

● Many contradictions are at play in this context. To complicate matters further, there is no specific cybersecurity law in place in India. Indian cybercrime and cybersecurity breaches are among the greatest in the world, with some estimates predicting that India would be the second-most targeted country in the Asia Pacific region. In spite of this, India's legal system continues to be fragmented, with a patchwork of laws that are not suited to solve sophisticated cybersecurity concerns, such as identity theft.

● These concerns can be addressed by introducing deliberative procedures and mechanisms to make the government responsible for its activities in cyberspace and in the administration of digital mediators. Media literacy and a well-informed approach are therefore vitally needed to combat today's crisis.

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