In February 2019, the ministry of home affairs (MHA) noted that over 60,000 cybercrime cases were recorded in the previous three years.(Shutterstock)
In February 2019, the ministry of home affairs (MHA) noted that over 60,000 cybercrime cases were recorded in the previous three years.(Shutterstock)

Social media moderation: Government plans new platform to flag online posts

At present, complainants can either challenge the content they find offensive in the courts or report it to intermediaries, if any are involved, to address their concerns.
By Deeksha Bhardwaj, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON FEB 19, 2021 03:04 AM IST

As the process of amending the Information Technology Act, 2000 gathers pace, the Centre is considering an alternative system for faster adjudication of cases related to cyberspace, revolving around what experts term a civil takedown of content.

The alternative system would be worked out in such a way that the process has legal sanctity and confers powers on the government to take strict action on complaints against offensive content, officials familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.

“The idea is that people who do not want to approach courts or the police regarding violative online content, say a video that the user wants taken down, can have an alternative,” said one of the officials.

Read more: Changing the status quo for social media companies in India

The official added that one of the options is to set up a website for grievance redressal that would address such complaints speedily. At present, complainants can either challenge the content they find offensive in the courts or report it to intermediaries, if any are involved, to address their concerns.

“The ideal time frame for action would be 48 hours, so that the content can be contained. Cases of women’s safety or cyber frauds can also be reported this way,” the official said. “Of course, criminal cases would need more time to investigate. This wouldn’t clash with that.”

At present, for cases that do not constitute a crime, a possible civil solution is to approach the courts. “The ministry of electronics and information technology has been receiving a far greater number of complaints,” a second official said. “There is a need for strengthening of cybersecurity, the provisions relating to intermediaries are also in the works and the country should soon have a data protection law as well.”

Read more: ‘Police leaked private WhatsApp chat’: Disha Ravi asks court to stop cops, media

In February 2019, the ministry of home affairs (MHA) noted that over 60,000 cybercrime cases were recorded in the previous three years. “As per data maintained by the National Crime Records Bureau, 12,317, 21,796 and 27,248 cases of cybercrime incidents have been registered in year 2016, 2017 and 2018, respectively,” the ministry said.

NCRB’s data show that 44,546 more cases of cybercrime were registered in 2019.

MHA runs a cybercrime reporting portal, cybercrime.gov.in, that was initially started in 2019 to record cases relating to the safety of women and children online. It dealt with online content such as rape videos and child pornography, but has since expanded to include other kinds of cases as well, such as cyber fraud.

The portal has no fixed time frame for resolution of cases. “Substantive parts of the IT Act are up for a new avatar,” the second official said. “The government is also revisioning how digital services are provided and consumed.”

Read more: Delhi education department to enhance its social media presence

The first official added that right now, services are provided in different forms, such as cloud services, small applications, big applications, intermediaries and third-party content. “There needs to be a reassessment. There are companies that have gained dominance across different forms. Their positions have to be clarified.”

NS Nappinai, a Supreme Court advocate and founder of Cybersaathi, said the move would be welcome. “A remedy for a civil takedown {of offensive content} would be most welcome,” she said. “I would urge the ministry to evaluate a shorter time period than 48 hours, since under the IT Act the takedown period for intermediaries is 36 hours and international trends are for takedowns in 24 hours or less.”

She added that victims had little recourse to immediate civil options over offensive content against them posted online. “The only issue is that the victim should not be made to run from pillar to post. A cohesive system has to be worked out,” she added.

Nappinai stressed that the issue is complex because everyone assumed that an intermediary meant an online entity. “One may be a digital entity and not online but still be able to avail the safe harbour granted to intermediaries under section 79 of the rules.” Section 79 pertains to intermediary guidelines, which provides safe harbour for intermediaries in a way that they are exempt from penal action for content shared by users.

“There is need to gain an understanding of whether they are entitled to safe harbour under all roles,” said the second official.

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