New amendments to IT Rules: Govt holds consultation on grievance clause

ByDeeksha Bhardwaj, New Delhi
Jun 24, 2022 02:01 AM IST

Those present were representatives from Meta (formerly Facebook), Netflix, Koo, legal activists and industry body Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI).

Tech companies, members of the civil society and multiple other stakeholders in the information technology domain raised concerns over the government’s proposed new amendments to the IT Rules in a meeting on Thursday, according to people aware of the discussions, even as a minister described the conversations as productive.

Rajeev Chandrasekhar (HT File)
Rajeev Chandrasekhar (HT File)

The meeting comes weeks after the government unveiled amendments to the Information Technology Rules, 2021, which became controversial for a particular proposal to set up a government-appointed grievance appeals committee that will have the final say on what content stays up or has to be removed from social media websites.

Some of the people who attended the meeting raised concerns over the constitutionality of the amendments, while others recommended financial liabilities instead of criminal liability, and creating a self-regulatory mechanism instead.

Those present were representatives from Meta (formerly Facebook), Netflix, Koo, legal activists and industry body Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI).

Union minister for electronics and information technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar told Hindustan Times that the consultation was very productive. “The biggest takeaway from the session is that all stakeholders can agree that the Indian cyberspace needs to respect four boundary conditions for policy and rulemaking — openness, safety and trust, accountability and complete compliance with the constitution,” he said.

“There is need to tighten the accountability matrix to ensure all citizens have recourse to an appeal in case their complaints are not addressed properly.”

One of the people who attended the meeting said the government appeared to be receptive to the suggestions, including a self-regulatory mechanism. “The minister said that the government would be open to such a mechanism and would also be amenable to changes in the rules in case they were found to be more effective,” said a tech policy official present at the consultation.

Supreme Court lawyer and founder of Cybersaathi, NS Nappinai, said there is the question of constitutionality of the rules, as well as the need for specificity when it comes to sections of it, such as whether or not an appellate body can be set up under the rules instead of going through Parliament.

“There is inconsistency in terms of timelines when it comes to takedown of content,” said Nappinai. “There is already is a provision to takedown certain kinds of content, such as nudity and child sexual abuse content, within 24 hours. This cannot be 72 hours as mandated under the rules.”

She added that the rules read more like a policy document instead of a regulatory framework.

The tech policy official mentioned above cited Chandrasekhar as saying that intermediaries cannot act as “arbiters of truth” and there need to be checks and balances. “There was also a call for an online dispute resolution mechanism,” the person said.

Chandrasekhar also said the government was working on a new IT Act since, he said, the existing one was outdated. “There were many concerns raised that are beyond the scope of the rules and the parent Act (IT Act) at present,” he said. “The broader conversation was around the architecture of the laws and there is a new law under preparation. The government has received the feedback and it will take decision accordingly.”

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