New IT rules to regulate digital content, featuring a code of ethics and a three-tier grievance redressal framework, have come into force.
On February 25, 2021 the Centre framed the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, in the exercise of powers under section 87 (2) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and in supersession of the earlier Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules 2011.
Overview of the New rules:
- It mandates a grievance redressal system for over 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.
Need for regulation:
- WhatsApp has about 400 million active Indian users (about four times that in the US where it is headquartered); about 300 million Facebook users are active in India (about 100 million more than the US); about 250 million YouTube users in India (about 50 million more than the US).
- With such a large market share, these significant data fiduciaries have an obligation to abide by the law of the land, in the interest of the data subjects in India at large.
- The recent stand taken by some of the data fiduciaries indicates that they are using their significant market power to defy rules of the land in which they operate.
- While a democratic country such as India always has legal recourse and the judiciary to oversee undue exercise of power by the State, this should not be taken as the first step by the data fiduciaries, as has been recently done.
- However, excessive regulations also hinder ease of doing business by social media companies.
What happens in case of non-compliance?
- 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.
Controlling online content and an excess of restriction/guideline could influence the innovative freedom of the content essayists/makers. A balance must be struck between regulation and freedom of content ensuring responsible digital media.