Sri Lankan authorities must not undermine the rights of people in Sri Lanka in its race to control online platforms. Through an open letter, Access Now and Hashtag Generation, along with more than 50 organisations, are demanding the Sri Lankan government withdraw the rights-violating Online Safety Bill.
The Sri Lankan government is set to table the draconian Online Safety Bill in parliament on 23 January 2024, disregarding the red flags raised by civil society, rights advocates, and tech companies. In 2023 alone, approximately 50 petitions were filed against the bill by civil society and industry coalitions, highlighting the disastrous effect the legislation could have on the people in Sri Lanka, and the need for a complete overhaul.
While the proceedings before Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court demonstrated the need for substantial amendments to validate the bill, the court’s 2023 verdict failed to criticise the fundamental flaws with this legislation. This includes provisions concerning an opaque regulatory body with no autonomy, adequate restraints, or independent oversight.
The bill will be detrimental to the recovering Sri Lankan economy, as it would significantly shrink the market for digital opportunities and employment. A heavy-handed approach to content-regulation, without consulting affected stakeholders, will result in a law which neither benefits the people using online platforms nor the platforms trying to curb hate speech and disinformation.
The government must withdraw the bill and engage in meaningful and inclusive multi-stakeholder consultations to ensure a people-centric approach to platform accountability and digital content regulation. The Online Safety Bill must not be allowed to make people in Sri Lanka unsafe, online or offline.