New Delhi: Just a year after the controversial Information Technology Act (IT) Rules 2021 came into effect last May, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) announced a new draft proposing changes to the law Monday in order to address “gaps”.
A statement released Monday night, and shared online by MeitY Minister of State (MoS) Rajeev Chandrasekhar, explained the proposed amendments and the rationale behind them, indicating that the government is seeking to tighten its oversight of big tech firms operating in India.
“New amendments have been proposed to the IT Rules 2021,” the statement noted, so as to address the “infirmities” that exist in the current rules vis-à-vis big tech platforms.
These “challenges and gaps”, the statement outlined, were perceived to exist largely in the arenas of “accountability” and grievance redressal by social media platforms.
The announcement came days after the ministry abruptly withdrew an earlier draft of the proposed amendments.
The fresh draft is now open to the public for comments and suggestions. A formal meeting with stakeholders will take place in mid-June when these draft measures could be made official after required amendments.
The government statement has stressed that the proposed new rules will not have any impact on Indian startups or early/growth-stage companies.
Proposed ‘Grievance Appellate Committee’
In a tweet Monday, MoS Rajeev Chandrasekhar emphasised that the “new amended IT (Intermediary) rules” aim to ensure more “effective grievance redressal” so as to protect the “constitutional rights” of citizens.
Putting Interests of Digital Nagriks First
New amended IT (Intermediary) rules are out for Public consultn – more effectve grievance addressal n ensurng constitutional rights of ctzns r respected https://t.co/NMee01blg7
No impact on Indian Startups
Press release 👇🏻 pic.twitter.com/olQKY5Q6Yt
— Rajeev Chandrasekhar 🇮🇳 (@Rajeev_GoI) June 6, 2022
The ministry’s statement threw further light on this, saying that the proposed rules would provide “additional avenues” for grievance redressal other than the courts, and would establish “new accountability standards for SSMIs” (significant social media intermediaries), so that the rights of citizens are not “contravened” by big tech platforms.
The statement went on to say that although the existing IT Rules 2021 did have a “robust” system to handle complaints, there had been “many instances” when the grievance officers of social media platforms either “do not address the grievances satisfactorily and/or fairly”.
In such a scenario, the statement said, it had been deemed “necessary” to create a new Grievance Appellate Committee to safeguard the “rights and interests of users”.
This proposed appellate body would give the users the “option to appeal against the grievance redressal process of the intermediaries”. Further, the body would “endeavour” to address the user’s appeal within 30 days.
Currently, the statement pointed out, there is “no appellate mechanism provided by intermediaries nor is there any credible self-regulatory mechanism in place”. However, even after this amendment, users “will have the right to directly approach a court of law against the intermediary’s decision”.
Stricter deadlines and ‘due diligence’ from intermediaries
Social media companies will be required to adhere to more stringent deadlines when it comes to addressing grievances or requests from the government under the proposed new rules.
So far, intermediaries were required to respond within 72 hours in case they were given an order to “provide information under its control or possession” to a government agency for investigative purposes.
However, the draft proposes that a 72-hour deadline should also apply for removal complaints regarding any content — say a post or tweet — from a user so that the offending material “does not become viral over sustained period of time”.
“It is proposed to add two provisos under rule 3(2) of the IT Rules 2021- a. The first proviso will require any complaint for removal of any content under rule 3(1)(b) to be addressed within 72 hours of the receipt of the user’s complaint, because of the very nature of cyberspace providing instant communication, outreach and virality,” the statement said, adding that any other grievance will continue to be addressed within 15 days.
Further, the proposed amendments to the IT Rules 2021 specifically require social media companies “to enforce the rule 3(1)(b)”. This is “in the larger interest of safety” and also to make intermediaries “accountable”, the proposal says, adding: “This will ensure actual enforcement of the requirements in the IT Rules 2021 in letter and spirit.”
In 2021, the central government and Twitter had locked horns after the social media giant refused to fully comply with orders to block accounts associated with the farmers’ protests over three controversial laws (which have since been repealed).
The amended draft includes rules 3(1)(m) and 3(1)(n) requiring intermediaries to “respect the rights guaranteed to users under the Constitution of India”.
This has been made necessary, the proposal says, because “a number of intermediaries have acted in violation of constitutional rights of Indian citizens”. Further, it is up to the government to act as the “guarantor of such rights of all our citizens”.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)