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Govt. to monitor OTT content

Topics Covered: Challenges to internal security through communication networks, role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges, basics of cyber security.

Govt. to monitor OTT content:


Context:

For the first time, the government, under the ambit of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, has brought in detailed guidelines for digital content on both digital media and Over The Top (OTT) platforms.

  • While all the rules have been framed and notified under the existing Information Technology (IT) Act, the administrative powers for regulation of OTT and digital news sharing platforms shall be under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B).

Overview of the rules:

Three-tier grievance redressal mechanism:

First level- OTT provider: Here, the grievance redressal system will be at the level of each OTT provider. Each complaint will have to be addressed within 15 days.

Second level- a self-regulatory body: If the complaint is not satisfactorily addressed, then the complainant can scale it up to a self-regulatory body collectively established by the OTTs.

  • Composition: This body will be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, a High Court, or an independent eminent person from the field of media, broadcasting, entertainment, child rights, human rights or other relevant fields.
  • Powers: This self-regulatory body also has “censuring” powers in case of any incriminating content.

At the third tier, the government has equipped itself with overriding powers in the form of “oversight mechanism”. An inter-ministerial committee will perform this function and it will largely have the same powers as the collective self-regulatory body of the OTTs.

Applicability:

The new guidelines place more onus on nearly all such companies which provide a platform to host, share, view or modify content, while also including for the first time, entities which are in the business of either creating or distributing news online under the ambit of an online intermediary.

Safe harbour provisions:

The government has made social media intermediaries more liable for the content being shared on their platform by following due diligence, failing which the “safe harbour provisions” will not be applicable to them.

  • These safe harbour provisions have been defined under Section 79 of the IT Act, and protect social media intermediaries by giving them immunity from legal prosecution for any content posted on their platforms.

A grievances redressal and compliance mechanism:

Social media intermediaries will also be required to have a grievances redressal and compliance mechanism, appointing a grievance officer whose name and contact details will have to be shared, a resident grievance officer who shall have an office in India and will be an Indian passport-holding citizen, and a chief compliance officer.

The chief compliance officer, who will have to be present in India, shall be responsible for ensuring the platform’s compliance with the IT Act and the rules notified Thursday.

A nodal contact person who can be available round-the-clock for “coordination with law enforcement agencies” will also have to be appointed by social media intermediaries.

Identification of the first originator of the information:

  • Social media intermediaries, upon being asked either by the court or by a government authority, will be required to disclose the first originator of the mischievous tweet or message, as the case may be.
  • The platform will, however, be liable to disclose the originator of the message “only for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, or public order”.

Fair opportunity:

Social media companies have been asked to give users a chance for explanation and a fair opportunity to be heard before removing access to their accounts.

Compliance of ethics and rules:

A self-regulatory body, headed either by a retired Supreme Court or High Court judge or an independent eminent person, shall also be formed, which will ensure the compliance of ethics and rules by online digital news platforms.

“Emergency” powers:

“In case of emergency nature” the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, may “if he is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient and justifiable” give orders to block access. Such orders can be released “without giving an opportunity of hearing” to the publishing platform.

Background:

The government’s move comes amid a flurry of activity across geographies over the last 12 months to frame new regulations aimed at policing Big Tech, which may force some of the world’s most valuable companies to fundamentally recalibrate their business models in order to stay in line with these regulations.

Implications and significance of these rules:

These were needed to hold social media and other companies accountable for “misuse and abuse”.

Sources: the Hindu.