Centre says new IT rules enhance safety of women, children
The Centre has told the Delhi high court that the Information Technology (IT) Rules 2021 have a clear focus on enhancing the safety of women and children.
In an affidavit filed before a bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh, the Centre has said that the new rules aim at the removal of content such as revenge porn and similar content breaching physical privacy.
“The rule protects the dignity of the person whose pictures on the computer resource negatively impact his/her dignity. The content removal within a 24 hours timeline does not result in over censorship and it has to be seen in light of the sensitivity, which is of utmost priority,” the Centre said in the document.
“Rule 3(2)(b) has been issued for the benefit & protection of victims whose sensitive pictures have been leaked online. It is a beneficial rule. Removal of a partially nude picture from its computer resource, on the basis of a complaint received from the victim of such picture, can in no way be said to affect the right of freedom of speech and expression of a user,” it added.
The Union government has said that the IT Rules 2021 also have provisions that intermediary providing services in the nature of messaging, shall cooperate with Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA) to identify the first originator of information related to rape and child sexual abuse material (CSAM) imagery for prosecution.
“The significant social media intermediaries shall endeavour to deploy technology-based measures to identify any act or simulation of rape and children engaged in any sexually explicit act, in accordance with the safeguards in the Rules,” the Union government said.
The fresh affidavit has been filed in response to a petition filed by petitioner Uday Bedi, a practising lawyer, who has challenged the impugning Rules 3 and 4 of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 which have been brought into force from February 25, 2021, as a user of social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, Telegram etc.
In response to the plea, the centre has said that the government is committed to the freedom of speech and expression and privacy of its citizens as enshrined in the Constitution of India.
It stated that the IT Rules, 2021 are meant to benefit a common user who is using any intermediary platforms and provide a set of checks and balances for the removal of unlawful content/information available on the social media platform.
“Online platforms are dynamic in nature. Unlawful content spreads faster from one platform to another. Hence the intermediaries are required to swiftly ensure compliance action (removal of content) to prevent further loss of damage to individuals or the state,” the Centre said.
The government also submitted the legislative intent behind the IT Rules that the internet should be open, safe and trusted and social media platforms to be accountable to the users.
According to the affidavit, other significant reasons for enacting the IT Rules 2021 include significant expansion of the online intermediary ecosystem in the last ten years, the exponential growth of social media users and availability of unregulated content on all sorts of communication devices, growth of online social media platforms and their influencing capabilities.
Last month, the Centre defended the IT Rules saying that it is the legal obligation of social media intermediaries Facebook and WhatsApp to evolve a mechanism for identifying the first originator of information without compromising end-to-end encryption or breaching the privacy of a user.
Opposing the pleas by the social media intermediaries— (Facebook and WhatsApp) challenging the new Information Technology Rules, 2021 specifically the “traceability” provision, which allows the messaging app to “trace” chats and identify the first originator of the information, the Centre has said that these companies cannot assert the violation of their rights to privacy when WhatsApp shares information with Facebook or third party for commercial interests.