Major push towards an open, safe and accountable internet, says min on amended IT rules

Published on Oct 30, 2022 12:22 AM IST

The Union government has notified amendments to the contentious information technology (IT) rules, 2021, which provide for grievance redressal panels to hear complaints against content moderation by social media companies.

India under PM Narendra Modi is a trustee of rights of its citizens & Digital Nagriks, said Union minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar. (PTI)
India under PM Narendra Modi is a trustee of rights of its citizens & Digital Nagriks, said Union minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar. (PTI)
ByDeeksha Bhardwaj, New Delhi

The central government is committed to protect the constitutional rights of citizens in the digital space, minister of state for electronics and information technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar said on Saturday while announcing amendments to the information technology intermediary guidelines 2021 notified on October 28 that aim to ensure accountability of social media platforms.

“India under PM Narendra Modi is a trustee of rights of its citizens & Digital Nagriks,” the minister of state said. “It is a major push towards an Open, Safe & Trusted and Accountable Internet. The Ministry of Electronics and IT notified these amendments aimed at protecting the rights of Digital Nagriks. It will enhance due diligence requirements and ensuring accountability of social media and other intermediaries.”

The Union government has notified amendments to the contentious information technology (IT) rules, 2021, which provide for grievance redressal panels to hear complaints against content moderation by social media companies. The panel members will be appointed by the government which, civil liberties activists have said, will amount to giving it the final say over what content stays up or is taken down, with powers to overrule companies like Meta that runs Facebook and Twitter if they remove or refuse to act on posts.

The central government was set to push through the plan despite concerns expressed by activists and industry representatives, HT reported on Friday.

The rules have been notified against the backdrop of complaints regarding the action, or the lack of it, on the part of the intermediaries on user grievances regarding objectionable content or suspension of their accounts, the minister added. “The intermediaries now will be expected to ensure that there is no uploading of content that intentionally communicates any misinformation or information that is patently false or untrue, hence entrusting an important responsibility on intermediaries,” Chandrasekhar said.

The amendments were notified after the ministry followed a public consultation process involving all stakeholders.

“Sharing Government’s vision and intent to work along with intermediaries for achieving the common goal of keeping the internet Safe & Trusted, the Minister affirmed that these rules mark new partnership between the Government and Intermediaries in making & keeping our Internet Safe & Trusted and Accountable Internet,” the ministry said in a statement.

The rules came under criticism by opposition leaders. “Safe for the government & unsafe for others, that’s what the policy of this government always has been... the only platform left for ordinary citizens was social media; when statements defamatory are made... people will be prosecuted,” former IT minister Kapil Sibal of the Congress party told ANI news agency.

The government has, however, said the grounds in rule 3(1)(b)(ii) have been rationalized by removing the words defamatory and libellous. “Whether any content is defamatory or libellous will be determined through judicial review,” the ministry said. “Some of the content categories in rule 3(1)(b) have been rephrased to deal particularly with misinformation, and content that could incite violence between different religious/caste groups.”

Key changes effected under the rules include imposing a legal obligation on intermediaries to take reasonable efforts to prevent users from uploading such content. “The new provision will ensure that the intermediary’s obligation is not a mere formality,” the ministry said. “For effective communication of the rules and regulations of the intermediary, it is important that the communication is done in regional Indian languages as well.”

The amendment requires “intermediaries to respect the rights guaranteed to users under the Constitution, including a reasonable expectation of due diligence, privacy and transparency”.

“Grievance Appellate Committee(s) will be established to allow users to appeal against the inaction of, or decisions taken by intermediaries on user complaints,” the statement added. “However, users will always have the right to approach courts for any remedy.”

The amendments are commendable because they will ensure that policies for platform governance remain updated and the internet continues to be “open, safe, trusted and accountable” for all Indians, said Kazim Rizvi, founder of tech policy think tank The Dialogue.

However, the due diligence mandates must not require intermediaries to make complex determinations on the legality of speech, which is the role of the judiciary, Rizvi added.

“The constitution of multiple grievance appellate committees is the most significant change brought by the amendment,” Rizvi said. “This will ensure adequate recourse for users against the decisions of grievance officers, and the fact that there are two independent members is a welcome step.”

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