Technology Law

IT Rules 2021 for Social Media – Explained

By Aaron S John

Introduction

The Information Technology Rules 2021, has once again sparked a debate amongst the citizens of India. This is considered to be a masterstroke by few while others believe that this is a direct attack on the fundamental rights concerning Article 14. Both the sides are highlighted in this article along with this different opinion that the tech giants have for this new rule is also mentioned. This article also provides the reader with a comprehensive review of the new rule regarding the Internet Technology Rule. Like many laws that already exist in India, a few of which sounds great on paper but has failed in execution or has been exploited to the maximum, it has yet to be seen how this new rule turns out to be, so let’s find out how well this new rule will do

What are the Information Technology Rules, 2021?

The Indian government had framed the Information Technology (Guidelines for intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 in early February. Particular roles were laid out to regulate the social media use along with social media platforms and time till may 25th was provided for the major companies to accept this. As of now most of the companies have not accepted this one major company being Twitter and WhatsApp that has struck down this rule stating that this law is not on par with their own rules and guidelines. The main goal the government plans to achieve with this new rule is to set up a “Grievance Redressal Mechanism” for all the users on the social media platforms including messaging applications, streaming services and digital news publishers. The government also plans to control the hate speech which is used a lot in these platforms and threats which that will threaten the national security.

According to rule 4(1), significant social media intermediate have to be set up this their social media intermediate. The benchmark has been set up at sites that have more than 5 million registered users in India. Further these companies shall accept these conditions within 3 months from the date of notification. Following this, a 3 Tier System of Redressal Mechanism has also been established which will look into later.

According to rule 4(2), any significant social media intermediate that provide services which are of the nature of messaging such as WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, telegram, etc shall enable the feature of identification, i.e is to trace the originator of a text message. 

Other aims of this rule

  • It has a clause under which any non-consensual intimate pictures uploaded on the internet have to be removed within 24 hours.
  • The compliance report has to be published by the company and has to be made public to the government authorities to increase transparency between the government and the social media apps
  • The setting of the dispute resolution mechanism is also designed to remove and control the data uploaded on the internet in a much efficient manner. 
  • More information will also be provided in the post upload in the social media to the content type whether it is an advertisement, sponsored, or exclusive product.

3 tier redressal mechanism

  1. Under this, at the first level, there will be a Grievance Officer who will handle the portal.
  2. If Grievance Officer’s work is not satisfactory, then it (the dispute) gets passed on to the Self-Regulatory Body of the particular sector or the industry.
  3. If the problem is not resolved even there, then it further moves to the Inter-Ministerial Oversight Committee under the central government.

Positives of this Rule

  • This law ensures that these social media companies follow the domestic laws of India. The major media platform companies are of foreign origin and when they comply with the domestic laws of India the whole functioning becomes smooth and comparatively efficient. 
  • It also enables and increases accountability and reduces the misuse and abuse of social media. This is the reason why this law is considered to be “one of a kind”.
  • This also brings uniformity and enables to counter the unlawful content distribution.
  • This law has also emphasized more on women’s protection and enables an easier way to curb fake news and punish the wrongdoer.

Criticisms 

  • Many argue that when the messaging company turns on the traceability feature then the end-to-end encryption will be lost. This, therefore, is a major concern concerning privacy and deprivation from having a safe chat.
  • Another major criticism is related to the lack of strong data privacy law. Many believe that these new laws can be counterproductive in a country where the citizens still do not have a strong data privacy law. Strong data laws which are present in places like the European Union should be studied and India should also learn from that and come up with its strong data protection law. This debate traces its origin back to the new WhatsApp policy that was released and only targeted selected countries. This was an opening for many as they realized the lack of strong data protection laws in India.
  • This new rule also creates an additional operational cost for various intermediate fees by demanding them to have an Indian resident Nodal Officer, Compliance Officers, and a Grievance Officers as mentioned in the 3 Tier Redressal Grievance System. This may also be demotivating small companies from offering their services in India.
  • There has also been an argument that this new rule will be misused. The main emphasis is given on the political side, stating that the party in power can use this rule to suppress the voice of the opposition. It can also bar the opposition party from running their propaganda during elections.
  • Many also believe that this is against Article 19 (1)A of the Indian Constitution. Article 19 talks about the right to free speech and expression. This law is criticized for being a tool that can be used to control free speech.

Media Giants and the New Rule

Facebook has assured and confirmed that they will aim to comply with the provisions set out by the new IT Act. Following this, they will continue to discuss few other issues that they believe need more engagement it with the government.

Since Twitter did not accept and comply with the new rule, it has lost legal protection and is no longer considered to be an intermediary.  Following this, Twitter won’t be protected under Section 79 of the IT Act which absolves the social media form of any liability from the content of a third party. As a gesture of goodwill, the Indian government had given Twitter and extra time to comply with the new rules. But Twitter as of yet has failed to meet its deadlines and make the necessary appointments as per the new rules.

Another tech giant WhatsApp had filed a lawsuit against the Government of India in the Delhi High Court challenging rule 4(2) of the IT rules 2021. Spokesman of WhatsApp added that “requiring messaging apps trace chats is same as, asking to keep fingerprint of every single message sent on WhatsApp which would totally break the end to end encryption and will fundamentally undermine people’s right to privacy”. WhatsApp has also updated the FAQ page on their website regarding this and has titled an article “What is Traceability and Why Does WhatsApp Oppose It?”. In response to WhatsApp’s concern, the Minister of Electronics and Information Technology of India under a press release stated that “such steps will only be necessary if it is related to the sovereignty and integrity of India or for an investigation of a very serious offense or messages which are containing sexually explicit material or child abuse material. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology of India further stated that this will be the last resort and will only be used with legal permission.

Conclusion

Often regulations set on any activity seem to be undemocratic. But this is not true as we all know everything has its limits nothing is absolute including our fundamental rights. Given the current situation with rising in different types of terrorist activities and rise in crime rates most of which rely heavily on social media apps. This law might be helpful with that and reduce the risk of future terror attacks. Sometimes extreme measures are required to stop an extreme problem and this law and my opinion is justified and was something due for a long. Adding to this I also believe that there should be strong data protection laws that will act as an add-on to this law and in turn provide the citizens with all the necessary protection that they need. How successful this law on execution is yet to be seen but it does sound very promising on paper. Finally, a new area of the net where more people will go to express their views more freely is going to be the deep web. 

Categories: Technology Law

1 reply »

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s