A group of 74 civil rights organizations from across the world, including nine from India, have written an open letter to Facebook proposing changes in its authentic identity” policy or real names” policy.

The coalition has raised concerns about the policy affecting the freedom of expression, safety of dissidents in repressive regimes, and user privacy among other issues. The letter suggests policy changes, while stating that they believe the policy should be scrapped altogether.

Facebook has responded saying they are reviewing the suggestions, while asserting the need for such a policy to avoid impersonation and bullying. The signatories are from the US, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Canada, Serbia, Mexico and other countries. Among the notable signatories are American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Human Rights Watch, and US-based Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The Indian signatories include Computer Society of India, Digital Empowerment Foundation, and Internet Democracy Project.

Facebook requires that users make accounts on the website with their authentic name and birthday. It doesn’t accept nicknames, special characters, symbols, and abusive words in names. A violation of this rule can be reported with a report abuse’ button by any user.

According to Facebook community standards, the account is then suspended pending review, during which the person behind the suspended account must provide proof of identity (government ID or otherwise) to regain access. Civil rights organizations say this rule is often abused in order to harass minority groups. For example, transgender and gender variant persons whose legal names are not in consonance with their gender identity.

The letter proposes that Facebook allow pseudonyms and non-legal names where appropriate, make those reporting fake names substantiate their claims, come up with a verification process that does not involve submitting government ID, and have more transparency on data retention in case such documents are submitted.

A Facebook representative told TOI over email that the social network is firm on the need for the existing policy. While we know not everyone likes this approach, our policy against fake names helps make Facebook a safer place by enabling us to detect accounts created for malicious purposes.”

Originally published in Times of India.