New Delhi: Union Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) Rajeev Chandrasekhar said the government is “OK” with social media platforms taking a few extra days to comply with the new IT rules notified this year, adding that he is “averse” to suing the companies for compliance.
He was addressing an event Monday where MeitY unveiled an explainer comprising ‘Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)’ about the IT rules.
Chandrasekhar’s stated approach is vastly different from that of his predecessor Ravi Shankar Prasad. Under the latter’s tenure, the ministry had said in the Delhi High Court that Twitter’s “non-compliance” with the IT rules had made it ineligible for protection under the safe harbour guidelines of the IT Act, which safeguards social media companies against legal action for third-party posts.
Further, Twitter was given multiple opportunities to comply with the same, however it has deliberately chosen the path of non compliance.
— Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad) June 16, 2021
Twitter to lose its status as intermediary platform in India as it does not comply with new guidelines, it is the only social media platform among mainstream that has not adhered to new laws: Government sources
— ANI (@ANI) June 16, 2021
According to the explainer, the “FAQs have been prepared to bring clarity as well as to explain the nuances of the due diligence to be followed by [social media] intermediaries”, a move that has been welcomed by many stakeholders.
‘Not trying to make this difficult for anybody’
At the launch of the explainer, Chandrasekhar said the “FAQs are simply what FAQs stand for — Frequently Asked Questions”.
“There were a number of questions raised when the rules were communicated — what was the reason for this, is this a method to try and interfere with the internet ecosystem, is this a way to coerce people… and I think the FAQs are the simplest way to answer those questions,” he added.
“We are not trying to make this difficult for anybody. As long as intermediaries are compliant with the rules and follow the laws of India — and I mean this for any intermediary — we are OK with it.”
Chandrasekhar also said “if somebody takes extra five days to be compliant, as long as the basic understanding is there that we want to keep the internet open, safe, and trusted and there has to be accountability of the intermediaries to the users, if you take three extra days for it, 72 hours extra, I don’t think we have a problem with it”.
“I am averse to bringing litigation into (the) relationship between policymakers and intermediaries unless it is absolutely, absolutely essential,” he added.
The minister said “only when there is clearly a difference of opinion that, for example, that first originator equals breaking of encryption as one company has argued and we say no it does not”, may the matter need to be taken to court.
It was messaging app WhatsApp, owned by Meta (formerly Facebook Inc), that had filed a case against the government in the Delhi High Court, saying the new IT rules require it to trace the origin of messages if sought by law, which it argued would break encryption and violate user privacy.
Welcomed by stakeholders
The FAQ document has been welcomed by various stakeholders.
Speaking to ThePrint over email, a Meta spokesperson said, “We appreciate the government’s efforts in bringing more clarity on the 2021 IT Rules. We look forward to studying the FAQs.”
ThePrint also reached Twitter on email for its comments on the document, but there was no reponse till the publishing of this report.
Chetan Sharma, Additional Solicitor General, Delhi High Court, who was present at the launch, said it was a “great step forward by the ministry” and reiterated, “we seek to avert litigation in every which way”.
A representative for the US-India Business Council (USIBC) present via video conferencing also welcomed the FAQs, and said they looked forward to working with the government in the future.
(Edited by Poulomi Ghosh)