Non-compliance with new guidelines will invite action: Centre to social media companies
The Union government has warned social media companies of action if they do not comply with new guidelines under the law as their three-month window to take steps such as appoint a chief compliance officer and a grievance officer closes this week.
The guidelines are part of new rules framed under the Information Technology Act, by which the government has sought to put in place a stricter regulatory mechanism that companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube will need to abide by.
“The rules were notified on February 25 and social media intermediaries have been given three months to comply,” said an official, asking not to be named. “So far, none of the prominent significant social media intermediaries have sent the ministry any intimation of such appointments. It is not necessary they inform the ministry, they can even furnish the details on the website. Either way, they have to comply.”
Information Technology (Guidelines for intermediaries and digital media ethics code) Rules, 2021 were notified by the ministry on February 25 for social media intermediaries such as Twitter and Facebook, and over-the-top (OTT) platforms such as Netflix, Hotstar and Amazon.
It mandated a three-tier self-regulatory structure for streaming platforms and increased due diligence by social media companies and data sharing, such as information about the first originator, with enforcement agencies. Significant social media intermediaries are defined as platforms that have 50,000 users or more.
Under part four of the new guidelines, significant social media intermediaries were required to appoint a compliance officer, “responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and rules” and be “liable in any proceedings relating to any relevant third-party information, data or communication link made available or hosted by that intermediary where he fails to ensure that such intermediary observes due diligence while discharging its duties under the Act”.
Intermediaries are also required to appoint a nodal contact person for 24x7 coordination with law enforcement agencies and a Resident Grievance Officer.
HT reached out to Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp but did not receive a response until press time.
A second official familiar with the matter said that soon as the rules were notified, they became a legal framework. “According to part 7 of the new guidelines, if the intermediary does not follow the rules, it is liable for punishment under Indian law, as section 79 of the (IT) Act will no longer apply.” Section 79 provides intermediaries “safe habour”, that is, exemption from punishment for third party content posted on its website.
Section seven of the new guidelines states — “Where an intermediary fails to observe these rules, the provisions of sub-section (1) of section 79 of the Act shall not be applicable to such intermediary and the intermediary shall be liable for punishment under any law for the time being in force including the provisions of the Act and the Indian Penal Code.”
Asia Pacific Policy director at Access Now Raman Chima said that revocation of safe harbour is something for the Court to decide. “The Union government does not have the sole authority to device how internet intermediaries are able to make use of the legal protection granted to them by Parliament. Whether the Government’s rules are constitutional - and whether partial or incomplete compliance impacts this legal immunity provided in law - will ultimately be decided by judges, and not just by the executive branch.”