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Why in the news?
The Indian government has taken its first big step towards regulating big tech platforms. The government’s new Intermediary Guidelines for the Information Technology Act (IT Act) place certain restrictions on platforms and how they function in India
New Information Technology Rules 2021:
- The Rules have been framed in exercise of powers under section 87 (2) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and in supersession of the earlier Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules 2011.
- Part- II of these Rules shall be administered by Ministry of Electronics and IT, while Part-III relating to Code of Ethics and procedure and safeguards in relation to digital media shall be administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
- The Digital India programme has now become a movement which is empowering common Indians with the power of technology. The extensive spread of mobile phones, Internet etc. has also enabled many social media platforms to expand their footprints in India. Common people are also using these platforms in a very significant way.
- 2018: The Supreme Court (SC) stated (Prajjawala case)that the Indian government can issue required guidelines to prohibit the use of child pornography, rape and gangrape images, videos, and websites in content hosting platforms and other applications
- 2020: After researching the disturbing issue of pornography on social media and its effect on children and society as a whole, a Rajya Sabha Ad-hoc committee issued a report recommending that the first originator of such contents be identified. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting was given authority over video streaming over-the-top (OTT) platforms by the government.
Evolution of Social Media and Other Intermediaries:
- Intermediaries on social media platforms have been split into two categories based on the number of users:
- Social media intermediaries.
- Significant social media intermediaries.
- 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.
- 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.
- Additional due diligence to be followed by significant social media intermediary:
- Appointed of Compliance Officer: It shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and Rules. Such a person should be a resident in India.
- Compliance Report: A monthly compliance report must be published, detailing the details of complaints received, actions taken in response to the complaints, and details of contents removed proactively.
- Identification of the first originator:
- 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.
- 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.
Digital media ethics code relating to digital media and OTT platforms:
- For the OOT platform:
- Classification of the content: The OTT platforms, called as the publishers of online curated content in the rules, would self-classify the content into five age based categories- U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult).
- Parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as “A”.
- Display the classification rating: The publisher of online curated content shall prominently display the classification rating specific to each content or programme together with a content descriptor informing the user about the nature of the content, and advising on viewer description (if applicable) at the beginning of every programme enabling the user to make an informed decision, prior to watching the programme.
- Publishers of news on digital media:
- It will be expected to follow the Press Council of India’s Norms of Journalistic Conduct and the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act 1995’s Program Code, ensuring a level playing field between the offline (print, television) and digital media.
- Norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act thereby providing a level playing field between the offline (Print, TV) and digital media.
- Grievance redressal mechanism:
- A three-level grievance redressal mechanism has been established under the rules with different levels of self-regulation.
- Level-I: Self-regulation by the publishers;
- Level-II: Self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the publishers;
- Level-III: Oversight mechanism.
- Self-regulation by the Publisher: Publisher shall appoint a Grievance Redressal Officer based in India who shall be responsible for the redressal of grievances received by it. The officer shall take decision on every grievance received by it within 15 days.
- Self-Regulatory Body: There may be one or more self-regulatory bodies of publishers. Such a body shall be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, a High Court or independent eminent person and have not more than six members. Such a body will have to register with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. This body will oversee the adherence by the publisher to the Code of Ethics and address grievances that have not been resolved by the publisher within 15 days.
- Oversight Mechanism: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting shall formulate an oversight mechanism. It shall publish a charter for self-regulating bodies, including Codes of Practices. It shall establish an Inter-Departmental Committee for hearing grievances.
Positive of the new IT law?
- It’s difficult to deny that the IT Rules are necessary. They hold “significant” internet sites (those with more than 5 million users) like Facebook, Google, and WhatsApp accountable.
- The ‘safe harbour’ provision in Section 79 of the Information Technology Act has provided protection to these so far.
- These tech giants have been linked to data breaches, national security, and individual privacy all over the world. Furthermore, they have hosted incendiary material that has the potential to disturb peace and harmony.
- OTT channels that carry curated content without certification, such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hotstar, can no longer do so.
- They will be required to rate their content for different forms of adult and child viewing, which is a positive step. They would also be required to follow the grievance procedures.
- These checks and balances are important and contribute significantly to the content’s streamlining.
- Publication of Compliance Reports is a positive step as it ensures transparency in content moderation practices of social media companies. It also makes data publicly available which will enhance the efficiency of content moderation tools and technologies.
Issues with the law:
- The filtering of Internet content has increased as a result of the new laws. It also requires that online services in India comply with government demands for consumer data collection and policing. Rules are formulated in the absence of free and democratic debate, as well as legislative examination and oversight.
- It appears that the current regulations promulgated under the Information Technology Act are unconstitutional. Rather than passing legislation, it was accomplished by broadening the scope of the IT Act of 2000.
- The new rules would also govern digital news media, which is an important source of information. Any government interference could stifle their freedom of expression and conversation.
- According to the new guidelines, anybody who has a complaint about the substance of the Code of Ethics will file their complaint. It would compel a digital forum to take up any topic raised by someone. Given that many digital news platforms are small businesses, this opens the floodgates for all sorts of interventions.
Mains oriented question:
Some strict policy steps are needed in light of the new challenges in digital content. However, the decision by the center to participate in the grievance redressal process as an apex body would not be enough to address these issues. Illustrate. (200 words)