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New amendments to IT Rules: Govt-appointed grievance panel, stricter compliance for social media

Users unhappy with a decision taken by a social media intermediary’s grievance officer can file appeal with such panels, which will get 30 days to resolve their issues.

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New Delhi: The Centre on Friday notified amendments to the IT rules that pave the way for setting up grievance appellate panels to address issues raised by people against social media intermediaries.

According to the latest rules, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology will establish one or more Grievance Appellate Committees (GAC) within the next three months, which will adjudicate appeals by users unhappy with the decisions taken by grievance officers of social media companies.

The appellate committee will comprise “a chairperson and two whole-time members appointed by the Central Government”.

Additionally, the amended rules also include provisions for stricter compliances for social media intermediaries like their grievance officers must acknowledge complaints within 24 hours and dispose of them within 15 days from the date of its receipt.

Those unsatisfied with the grievance officer’s decision can file their appeals to the GAC within 30 days. On its part, the GAC is to “make an endeavour to” resolve the matter within 30 days of receiving appeals.

While the draft document was first released in June for consultations, the version notified Friday is the final form these rules will take, unless further modifications are notified later.

Commenting on billionaire Elon Musk taking over at Twitter following his acquisition of the microblogging site, Minister of State for Electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar Friday stated that India expects that its rules and laws for intermediaries remain the same regardless of who owns the platforms.

Earlier this year, Musk’s lawyers highlighted how an ongoing lawsuit between Twitter and the Centre could bring risk to its third-largest market.

The ongoing case between Twitter and the Centre encapsulates some of the tensions prevailing in this sector, wherein the social media giant has argued that the government should not order blanket take-down orders of accounts or posts.

The formation of the GAC is noteworthy because it comes despite the significant pushback from social media companies, which had proposed for a self-regulatory body instead of one under control of  the government.

“The Central Government shall, by notification, establish one or more Grievance Appellate Committees within three months from the date of commencement of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2022,” reads the government document.

The committee members shall “consist of a chairperson and two whole-time members appointed by the Central Government, of which one shall be a member ex-officio and two shall be independent members”, it adds.

Notably, the new rules include a provision that specifies that social media intermediaries “shall respect all the rights accorded to the citizens under the Constitution, including in the Articles 14, 19 and 21”.

These Articles pertain to equality, freedom of expression, and right to life and personal liberty, respectively.

“While dealing with the appeal if the Grievance Appellate Committee feels necessary, it may seek assistance from any person having requisite qualification, experience and expertise in the subject matter,” the new amendments explained.

The rules specify that the entire process of grievance addressal will be conducted online, in the manner of other online dispute resolution processes. The idea is that appeals can be made without having to approach the courts for individual cases.

However, some non-governmental bodies had argued that these rules will stifle a democratic process and have questioned the independence of the panels.

The rules go on to say that intermediaries are also expected to do their “due diligence” when it comes to user-generated content.

“The intermediary shall take all reasonable measures to ensure accessibility of its services to users along with the reasonable expectation of due diligence, privacy and transparency,” the rules said.

These platforms will also have to provide enough “safeguards” after addressing complaints and upload on their website all the changes they will make to ensure “transparency”, it added.

(Edited by Tony Rai)


Also Read: ‘Singled out by govt’ — Twitter users could ‘jointly approach court’ as posts, handles blocked


 

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