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Amendments to the IT Rules 2021

Context:

Recently, The Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) has notified amendments to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (IT Rules, 2021) on.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Salient Features of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021
  2. Key Amendments to IT Rules, 2021

Salient Features of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021

Due Diligence to Be Followed by Intermediaries: 

  • The Rules prescribe due diligence that must be followed by intermediaries, including social media intermediaries.
  • In case, due diligence is not followed by the intermediary, safe harbour provisions will not apply to them.

Grievance Redressal Mechanism:

  • The Rules seek to empower the users by mandating the intermediaries, including social media intermediaries, to establish a grievance redressal mechanism for receiving resolving complaints from the users or victims.
  • Intermediaries shall appoint a Grievance Officer to deal with such complaints and share the name and contact details of such officer.
  • Grievance Officer shall acknowledge the complaint within 24 hours and resolve it within fifteen days from its receipt.

Ensuring Online Safety and Dignity of Users, Especially Women Users: 

  • Intermediaries shall remove or disable access within 24 hours of receipt of complaints of contents that exposes the private areas of individuals, show such individuals in full or partial nudity or in sexual act or is in the nature of impersonation including morphed images etc.
  • Such a complaint can be filed either by the individual or by any other person on his/her behalf.

Two Categories of Social Media Intermediaries: 

  • To encourage innovations and enable growth of new social media intermediaries without subjecting smaller platforms to significant compliance requirement, the Rules make a distinction between 
    • Social Media Intermediaries and
    • Significant Social Media Intermediaries. 
  • This distinction is based on the number of users on the social media platform.
  • Government is empowered to notify the threshold of user base that will distinguish between social media intermediaries and significant social media intermediaries.

The Rules require the Significant Social Media Intermediaries to follow certain additional due diligence. 

  • Appoint a Chief Compliance Officer who shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and Rules,
  • Appoint a Nodal Contact Person for 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies,
  • Appoint a Resident Grievance Officer who shall perform the functions mentioned under Grievance Redressal Mechanism.
  • Publish a monthly compliance report mentioning the details of complaints received and action taken on the complaints as well as details of contents removed proactively by the significant social media intermediary.
  • Significant social media intermediaries providing services primarily in the nature of messaging shall enable identification of the first originator of the information that is required only for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, or public order or of incitement to an offence relating to the above or in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years.
  • Significant social media intermediary shall have a physical contact address in India published on its website or mobile app or both.

Voluntary User Verification Mechanism: 

  • Users who wish to verify their accounts voluntarily shall be provided an appropriate mechanism to verify their accounts and provided with demonstrable and visible mark of verification.

Giving Users an Opportunity to be Heard: 

  • In cases where the significant social media intermediaries removes or disables access to any information on their own accord, then a prior intimation for the same shall be communicated to the user who has shared that information with a notice explaining the grounds and reasons for such action.
  • Users must be provided an adequate and reasonable opportunity to dispute the action taken by the intermediary.

Removal of Unlawful Information: 

  • An intermediary upon receiving actual knowledge in the form of an order by a court or being notified by the Appropriate Govt. or its agencies through authorized officer should not host or publish any information which is prohibited under any law in relation to the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, public order, friendly relations with foreign countries etc.

Key Amendments to IT Rules, 2021

New Guidelines for Social Media Intermediaries:

  • Currently, intermediaries are only required to inform users about not uploading certain categories of harmful/unlawful content. These amendments impose a legal obligation on intermediaries to take reasonable efforts to prevent users from uploading such content. The new provision will ensure that the intermediary’s obligation is not a mere formality.
  • The amendment requires intermediaries to respect the rights guaranteed to users under the Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution, therefore, including a reasonable expectation of due diligence, privacy and transparency.
  • For effective communication of the rules and regulations of the intermediary, it is important that the communication is done in regional Indian languages as well.

Amendments to the Rule 3:

  • The grounds in subclause 1 of rule 3 (rule 3(1)(b)(ii)) have been rationalized by removing the words ‘defamatory’ and ‘libellous’.
  • Whether any content is defamatory or libellous will be determined through judicial review.
  • Some of the content categories in subclause 1 of rule 3 (rule 3(1)(b)) have been rephrased to deal particularly with misinformation, and content that could incite violence between different religious/caste groups.

Establishment of Grievance Appellate Committee(s):

  • Grievance Appellate Committee(s) will be established to allow users to appeal against the inaction of, or decisions taken by intermediaries on user complaints.
  • However, users will always have the right to approach courts for any remedy.

-Source: The Hindu


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