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Sansad TV: Bills and Acts- India Amended Information Technology Rules

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Need for regulation

  • The issue of content regulation has always been important in India because of the diverse nature of Indian society in terms of religion, economic status, caste and language. Therefore, the effect that digital media has on society forms the basis of its regulation by the state.
  • The speed and reach of digital media especially social media have meant that subversive rumours and fake news get aired with impunity.
    • This has resulted in serious law and order problems.
  • In India, this phenomenon has assumed dangerous proportions. Fake news and hate speech have led to lynchings and communal flare-ups in many parts of the country. This menace needs to be curbed.
  • The Supreme Court had expressed the need to regulate social media to curb fake news, defamation and trolling. It had also asked the Union government to come up with guidelines to prevent misuse of social media while protecting users’ privacy.
  • Threat of foreign influence and interference in India’s domestic affairs is more real than ever, particularly from India’s hostile neighbours like China and Pakistan.
  • The guidelines could help the government in tightening the noose on Chinese and other foreign companies who are making investments in digital media in the country.

New rules:

  • It mandates a grievance redressal system forover the top (OTT) and digital portals in the country. This is necessary for the users of social media to raise their grievance against the misuse of social media.
  • Significant social media firms have to appoint a chief compliance officer and have a nodal contact person who can be in touch with law enforcement agencies 24/7.
  • A grievance officer: Social media platforms will also have to name a grievance officer who shall register the grievance within 24 hours and dispose of it in 15 days.
  • Removal of content: If there are complaints against the dignity of users, particularly women – about exposed private parts of individuals or nudity or sexual act or impersonation etc – social media platforms will be required to remove that within 24 hours after a complaint is made.
  • A monthly report: They also will have to publish a monthly report about the number of complaints received and the status of redressal.
  • There will be three levels of regulation for news publishers — self-regulation, a self-regulatory body, headed by a retired judge or an eminent person, and oversight from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, including codes of practices and a grievance committee.

Non compliance of it:

  • Social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp messenger could face a ban if they do not comply with the new Information Technology rules.
  • They also run the risk of losing their status as “intermediaries” and may become liable for criminal action if they do not comply with the revised regulations.

Concerns:

  • Various industry bodies have written to the government for up to a one-year compliance window, particularly in view of the pandemic.
  • Concerns have also been expressed over potential unavailability of ‘safe harbour’ protection given to intermediaries under Section 79 of the IT Act, under the new rules.
  • They have requested a re-think over a clause in the new rules which can lead to imposition of criminal liability upon the employees for non-compliance by intermediaries, asking for it to be dropped in the interest of ease of doing business.
  • Originator traceability mandate in end-to-end encrypted platforms could end up weakening the security architecture of the platform. This could render the entire citizenry susceptible to cyberattacks by hostile actors.
  • Additionally, the extant data retention mandate entailed risking privacy of users in India and abroad in addition to security risks and technical complexities which requires a lot of time for development and testing before integration with the existing ecosystem.

Way Forward

  • There is no denying that there are problems with online content, which the government has rightly highlighted now.
  • Its release has referred to a 2018 Supreme Court observation that the government “may frame necessary guidelines to eliminate child pornography, rape and gangrape imageries, videos and sites in content hosting platforms and other applications”, besides making a mention of discussions in Parliament about social media misuse and fake news.
  • Besides the regulation, data privacy law must be passed immediately as it has been on the back burner. State must also be held accountable in upholding privacy rights of its people.