New IT Rules, 2021:
The Union government notified the ‘The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021’ in February 2021 and provided a three-month compliance window. The rules came in after a huge demand by people with regard to the harassment and other unlawful activities that take place on social media platforms.
Aim: The rules are aimed at substantially empowering the ordinary users of digital platforms by seeking redressal for their grievances and commanding accountability in case of infringement of their rights.
The guidelines are framed to ensure social media remains a source of healthy information.
Coverage: The New IT Rules pertain to OTT platforms, social media as well as digital news media organisations.
However, digital news media organizations are already bound by the Press Council of India’s code of ethics.
Associated Supreme Court Cases:
An Overview of the Guidelines
Classification of Social Media Intermediaries: The guidelines call upon the categories of social media intermediaries:
- Regular Social Media Intermediaries (RSMIs)
2.Significant Social Media Intermediaries (SSMIs)
The SSMIs are the intermediaries having more than 5 million (or 50 lakh users.
Appointment of Officers: The SSMIs are required to appoint the following officers, all of whom shall be residents of India:
A Chief Compliance Officer
A Nodal Contact Officer who should be available 24*7
A Resident Grievance Officer.
Grievance Redressal Mechanism: The guidelines ask the social media platforms to have a grievance redressal mechanism so that any content shared violates the public order or is not regulatory, a complaint regarding the same can be lodged to the Grievance Redressal Officer. The officer will be required to acknowledge the complaint within 24 hours and resolve it within 15 days. In the cases specifically related to crime against women, the obligation is to resolve the complaint within 24 hours.
Monthly Reports: The SSMIs are also required to publish a monthly report mentioning the number of complaints received and the actions taken in response.
Verification: Social media platforms are also required to have a voluntary verification mechanism like Twitter offers a blue-tick mechanism for verified users.
Identifying Originators of Messages: The new rules make it mandatory for platforms such as WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram to aid in identifying “originators” of “unlawful” messages, while also requiring social media networks to take down such messages within a specific time frame. Non-compliance with these laws can result in the SSMIs losing the ‘safe harbor’ protection offered under Section 79 of the IT Act. It grants protection against liability (civil as well as criminal) for content posted on the social media platform by third-party users.
Violation of Fundamental Rights: Traceability of content is the very opposite of end-to-end encryption.
Traceability of content originator and content infringes upon the users’ fundamental Rights to privacy. These guidelines also undermine the principles of an open and accessible Internet.
The guidelines, ultimately, are about the end-users of social media platforms, the growth of the latter depends upon the former.
Ensuring the interests of the end-users must be the priority and rules and regulations must not be formed in any way that violates their basic rights.
Moreover, there is a strong need to have law & order in place to curb the falsehoods of the information but also ensure that the privacy of the citizens is not compromised.