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Briefly explain the major provisions of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. Also, highlight the social media intermediaries’ concerns regarding these rules After 62 years of signing the Indus waters treaty, India has moved to amend this treaty with Pakistan. Discuss the reasons for this pathbreaking intention of India to modify the treaty with implications on India-Pakistan relations further.
Model Answer

Approach:

Introduction: Briefly describe the rules and the intentions of these rules.

Body: Mention key provisions of these rules, and also describe concerns of intermediaries.

Conclusion: Suggest a balanced conclusion connecting it with the fundamental rights of the constitution.

Answer:

The draft Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 is a set of regulations for social media intermediaries in India. These were drafted by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and are intended to provide a framework for the regulation of social media platforms and online platforms.

Some of the key provisions of these rules include-

  • Designated officers like grievance redressal officers, and chief compliance officers, to ensure compliance of intermediaries, to register grievances within 24 hours.
  • Removal of content within 24 hours of complaint in case of complaints against the dignity of users, particularly women about exposed private parts of individuals or nudity or sexual act or impersonation, etc
  • Code of ethics for platforms including the guidelines for content moderation and protection of user privacy.
  • Monthly compliance report to be required to submit to the government detailing the number of complaints, actions taken, and instances when content was removed.
  • Traceability of originator of information if the information is found to be violative of the law.
  • Transparency in political advertisements by mandatory disclosure about advertisements including the name of the advertiser, the amount spent, and the target audience by the intermediaries.

Social media giants such as Facebook could face a ban if they do not comply with the new Information Technology rules. They also run the risk of losing their status as “intermediaries” and may become liable for criminal action if they do not comply with the revised regulations.

Concerns of intermediaries regarding IT rules-

  • The burden of responsibility on intermediaries to monitor and remove illegal content increases the compliance cost burden to affect intermediaries.
  • Vagueness in the definition of illegal content in the provisions. Emergency notices can be issued if the Ministry of Information believes that the content can impact the sovereignty, integrity, defense, or security of India, friendly relations with foreign states or public order, or to prevent incitement to any cognizable offense. These are broad categories.
  • Lacking transparency in the process. Emergency provisions have been misused at least seven times since 2021 to block content on platforms in emergency situations. Intermediaries in this case have limited recourse and can only approach courts, though it is difficult to know the provisions under which the content was blocked and why the government decided to take it down.
  • Potential unavailability of ‘safe harbour’ protection given to intermediaries under Section 79 of the IT Act, under the new rules which could make intermediaries liable for criminal action.
  • Weakening of security architecture of platform by Originator traceability mandate in end-to-end encrypted platforms.

 

Though there is an urgent need to tackle hate crimes, misinformation, and violation of women’s dignity on platforms, there is also a responsibility of the state to protect freedom of expression ( article 19 ) as well as the right to privacy (article 21). Thus these rules should be made more concrete and transparent linking them with data protection legislation being envisaged to ensure a balance among competing imperatives.

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