Centre notifies changes to IT rules, 2021 | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Centre notifies changes to IT rules, 2021

ByDeeksha Bhardwaj
Apr 07, 2023 01:04 AM IST

The rules also formalised regulation of online gaming, setting up a self-regulatory body for the industry.

The Union ministry of electronics and information technology (Meity) notified amendments to the contentious IT rules, 2021 on Thursday, inserting a clause that will need intermediaries — social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook — to ensure users do not post content about the Union government that has been “fact checked” by an approved body.

New Delhi, Mar 28 (ANI): Minister of State for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Rajeev Chandrashekar speaks in the Lok Sabha during the second part of the Budget Session of Parliament, in New Delhi on Monday. (ANI Photo/Sansad TV) (ANI)
New Delhi, Mar 28 (ANI): Minister of State for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Rajeev Chandrashekar speaks in the Lok Sabha during the second part of the Budget Session of Parliament, in New Delhi on Monday. (ANI Photo/Sansad TV) (ANI)

The rules also formalised regulation of online gaming, setting up a self-regulatory body for the industry.

Hindustan Times - your fastest source for breaking news! Read now.

Also reader: MeitY does not track or monitor apps: MoS Chandrasekhar to RS

While the government said the measure on fact-checking was meant to combat misinformation, experts raised concerns about the government assuming a role in doing this. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court, as it struck down a ban on a media channel, said restrictions to free speech cannot be applied to criticism of government policy. “Criticism of governmental policy can by no stretch of imagination be brought within the fold of any of the grounds stipulated in Article 19(2),” said the court in its order.

The Union minister of state for electronics and information technology, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, defended the move. “These rules focus on safety, trust and openness of the internet,” he said, adding: “These rules address two major challenges — the ambiguity around online gaming and misinformation.”

He added that this deals with misinformation that pertains to the government.

The minister added that the government of India will notify an organisation that will fact check all content regarding government related content. “If they are to enjoy safe harbour under section 79, they have to comply. This is not an attempt to censor content. If there is an aggrieved party then section 79 will not be a safe harbour will not an excuse to escape responsibility,” Chandrashekar said.

Section 79 of the IT Act gives social media companies legal immunity from liability of what their users post as long as they carry out the necessary due diligence outlined by the government.

In an earlier version, the rules put the onus on intermediaries to ensure users do not “host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, store, update or share any information” that “is identified as fake or false by the fact check unit at the Press Information Bureau of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting or other agency authorised by the central government.”

The latest version does not mention the PIB fact-check unit. “There is a possibility that the organisation will be the Press Information Bureau fact-check unit, so that it is notified under the government’s rules so that they can use the power of the IT rules,” Chandrashekar said.

PIB on several occasions has sought to rebut media reporting with its fact-check. When the first version of the rules were released, experts said it fell afoul of Article 19(2) of the Constitution, which deals with reasonable restrictions on free speech.

The Supreme Court’s Wednesday order expanded on this, especially in the context of media reporting and the government’s say on it. “The restriction on the freedom of the press compels citizens to think along the same tangent. A homogenised view on issues that range from socioeconomic polity to political ideologies would pose grave dangers to democracy,” it said.

According to Supreme Court lawyer and founder of Cybersaathi NS Nappinai, the fact check addition through Rule 3 is not a robust form of regulation. “Clarity on process of classifying fake, false or misleading news and safeguards or due process protections against arbitrary actions that may stifle free speech ought to have been built into the regulation,” she said.

“Government should not be in the business of censorship, especially when most misinformation can be traced back to political parties and their supporters. These rules are constantly being used to expand governmental powers and control online narrative in the name of checking misinformation especially before 2024 general elections. This should alarm all of us,” said technology lawyer Mishi Choudhary.

Chandrasekhar added that as for regulation of private fact-checkers, the government was open to a self-regulatory mechanism. “We approached private fact-checkers, but they have only responded today. The government is open to having a self-regulatory mechanism for them that they themselves can propose. If you’re working in India, you have to be answerable to Indian law. You can’t have a certification from a foreign country,” he said.

On online gaming, the minister said: “The permissibility of the online games will depend on several principles on whether wagering is involved.”

Also read: Centre releases new rules for online gaming; puts ban on betting

The IT ministry proposed that online gaming companies or intermediaries — a platform that provides several such games — register with a self-regulatory body. “Before hosting or publishing or advertising an online game for a consideration, ascertain from the online gaming intermediary and verify from the concerned self-regulatory body…” the rules, first uploaded for public feedback on January 2, state.

The stakeholders raised the issue of e-KYC requirements proposed to be brought in under the new rules, that mandate all gaming platforms that participate in financial transactions, in cash or kind, to verify the identity of the person. The draft rules suggest a gaming provider do this via mechanisms laid down by the Reserve Bank of India.

“We consider the online gaming ecosystem a very important part of the one trillion economy goal for India, it provides a huge opportunity of Indian start up,” the minister said.

A permissible online real money game will have to be verified by self-regulatory body. It should not involve wagering on any outcome; and the online gaming intermediary and such online game have to comply with the provisions of any law relating to the age at which an individual is competent to enter into a contract, and the framework made by the online gaming self-regulatory body.

The members of the self-regulatory body must include an individual having special knowledge of or practical experience in the online gaming industry, an individual promoting the interests of users of online games, an educationist, an expert in the field of psychology or mental health.

Chandrasekhar said that the government will initially notify three such bodies.

Industry bodies welcomed the clarity in the rules. “We are grateful to MeitY for notifying the amendments to regulate online gaming under the Indian Information Technology Act, and acknowledging the long-standing demand of the gamers and the online gaming industry,” said Roland Landers, CEO, All India Gaming Federation.

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