India has proposed a new set of IT rules to rein in social media giants like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp as big tech companies exploit loopholes in the country’s regulations.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has issued a draft amendment Monday to the 2021 Information Technology Rules which propose to create a committee that can veto grievance redress decisions, including banning or deleting any user or user account on media platforms social.
In a press release, he said the revisions would ensure that “the constitutional rights of Indian citizens are not infringed by a Big Tech platform by securing new accountability standards for SSMIs (Significant Social Media Intermediaries).”
The ministry also said the changes will ensure “the effective application of the requirements of the IT Rules 2021 in letter and spirit”.
The new guidelines, he said, were designed to ensure an “open, safe, reliable and responsible internet for all Indian internet users and digital Nagriks (citizens)”.
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Taming Big Tech
While India’s current IT policies have increased the accountability of intermediaries to their users, especially on large technology platforms, as India’s digital ecosystem and internet users grow, so are their concerns, as well as the “infirmities and loopholes” of the Big Tech rule, the department said.
It alleges that “a number of intermediaries have acted in violation of the constitutional rights of Indian citizens and bearing in mind that the government is the guarantor of these rights for all our citizens”.
The ministry, however, did not specify what these “infirmities and shortcomings” are.
“Clearly, the new guidelines would make Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and others more liable for court orders to remove material and identify original posters,” said Salman Waris, partner at TechLegis Advocates & Solicitors, a law firm. lawyers specializing in the regulatory aspects of Technology, Media, Telecom.
In February 2021, New Delhi announced steps to make Facebook, WhatsApp and others more legally responsible.
They were told to remove ‘illegal’ content, while email service providers were told they would be forced to identify the original posters of particular messages, which could include compromising end-to-end encryption provided to users.
New rules for social media companies were introduced on May 26, 2021 which require major social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to identify the “first author” of information that “jeopardizes sovereignty, national security or public order in India”.
“The rules proposed on Monday are also significant in light of reports from accounts, including those of celebrities, being blocked by social media platforms like Twitter for allegedly violating Community Standards,” Waris said.
Open to public comments
The new rules, however, are not yet finalized as stakeholders still need to be consulted. The ministry said it was open to some changes after public consultation and suggestions stakeholders over the next 30 days.
And next week, he plans to call a formal meeting to get public comment.
Rajeev Chandrasekhary, the Minister of State for Electronics and ITsaid the proposed guidelines would have no impact on “Indian start-up or growth-stage companies or startups”.
• Indrajit Basu