The Union Government on Thursday announced a set of new rules and guidelines under the Information Technology Act as the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, 2021. The new rules have been laid down to 'empower the users of social and digital media’, such as social networks, over-the-top (OTT) platforms and online news media. In the press conference chaired by Ravi Shankar Prasad, Law & Justice, Communications, Electronics & I.T. Minister of India, and Prakash Javadekar, Minister of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, Information & Broadcasting, and Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises, it was announced that to regulate social media content, the government may ask the platform to reveal the author of the message or tweet.
The press conference was chaired by Ravi Shankar Prasad, Law & Justice, Communications, Electronics & I.T. Minister of India, and Prakash Javadekar, Minister of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, Information & Broadcasting, and Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises. The Centre notified the new rules to govern digital media industry and ensure stronger compliance with local laws, which is expected to significantly change the operations of social media firms, messaging platforms, online news portals and streaming services operate in India. The guidelines broaden the definition of 'digital media’ to include news portals, who are to follow similar norms as the traditional media publishers like newspapers and television news channels.
Digital companies, whether India-based or abroad-based, shall have to appoint local officers to overlook the requests to trace originators of messages to pull down content. The Centre has also suggested 'voluntary’ verification of users and a compliance, and grievance officer. Social media platforms will be assigned 36-hour notice period to take down such posts. Encrypted messaging apps, like WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram, shall have to trace the creator of 'contentious’ texts. Since, apps like WhatsApp function on end-to-end encryption, they will either have to fundamentally change their nature of their platforms or exist India.
Firms will also have to install automated tools to eliminate certain type of messages and delete them on the requests of users within 24 hours in case the content is sexual in nature. The government has also introduced a 'three-tier regulatory’ framework to address complaints on OTT platforms – Level-I includes self-regulation by the applicable entity, followed by Level-II with self-regulation by self-regulating bodies of the applicable entities, and eventually Level-III with 'oversight mechanism’ by the Centre.
“Appoint a nodal person of contact for 24x7 coordination with law enforcement agencies and officers to ensure compliance to their orders or requisitions made in accordance with the provisions of law or rules made thereunder.”
The new guidelines also distinguish between 'social media intermediaries’ and 'significant social media intermediaries.’ Significant social media intermediaries shall have to adhere to an additional set of rules which includes appointing a chief compliance officer, a resident in India, a nodal person to coordinate with law enforcement agencies and lastly a 'resident grievance officer.’ The document cautions OTT platforms not to impact India’s sovereignty and integrity. The document, notified under the section 79 of the I.T. Act, 2008 mentions that section 87 of the Act offers the authority to set up the said rules.
“An applicable entity shall take into consideration the following factors, when deciding to feature or transmit/publish/exhibit any content, after duly considering the implications of any content as falling under the following categories, and shall exercise due caution and discretion in relation to the same, content which affects the sovereignty and integrity of India, content which threatens, endangers or jeopardises the security of the State, content which is detrimental to India’s friendly relations with foreign countries.”
The document states that the rules mentioned shall come into operation after 3 months from the date of publication. However, experts say that, by introducing these rules, India has probably taken the toughest stand on digital media regulation by any country. The document, notified under the section 79 of the I.T. Act, 2008 mentions that section 87 of the Act offers the authority to set up the said rules.
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