Impact of intermediary rules 2021-min

Intermediary Guidelines 2021: Everything you need to know

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India introduced new IT rules 2021 called the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics code in February 2021. With the introduction of these rules the privacy has became a topic of debate among national and international organizations.

Key Highlights of the Intermediary Guidelines 2021?

With a dual-objective to facilitate accountability of social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, publishing, news platforms and empower the social media user, the Government made a set of rules and guidelines overriding the previous IT rules of 2011. The amendment resulted as a consequence of the continuous increase in problems where social media is involved. Some of these issues are the spreading of fake news, violation of women dignity, social media spam and many more. Features of the Act are as follows:

  1. Any social media platform with more than 5 million users in India shall establish a three-tier mechanism to ensure diligence. The appointment of the Chief Compliance Officer within the next three months of notification to ensure the diligence and compliances of rules with any third-party participant. Along with CCO, the company shall also appoint a Nodal Contact Person and a Resident Grievance Officer to coordinate with the law enforcement agencies over the compliance issues and to solve the public disputes and handle user’s grievances respectively.
  2. The social media services providers like Messenger, WhatsApp primarily providing the chat and message or mail service must develop a system to identify the originator with the information on its resource for any offensive or dangerous message.
  3. The intermediary must provide the required information about the origin of the unlawful message under its possession within 72 hours of receiving the order to the government agency for identification, verification, investigation and prosecution of any such offence.
  4. Every social media intermediary shall provide a report mentioning the information related to all the complaints received, the responses to those complaints, the resolved issues and parts of content affected after the complaint and action to it on monthly basis.
  5. For the users registering from India for such social media services, the intermediary must implement an account verification mechanism voluntarily including by Indian mobile number.
  6. For communication, the intermediaries need to have a local office in India with the address visible on their platforms.
  7. The social media companies shall at least once in a year inform their users about all the possible consequences of non-compliance with the rules and regulation like the termination of services, suspension of user accounts or removal of information which is non-compliant.
  8. Information of u users who may cancel their accounts after registration to be retained for 180 days
  9. Regulation of news publishing platforms following the grievance redressal in 3 stages. Self-regulation by publishers, self-regulation by regulating bodies of publishers, oversight mechanism. The publishing platforms shall be taking into consideration the Norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, 1995 while expressing anything on their platforms

Criticism of these guidelines

The organizations at a national and international level are criticizing the Intermediary guidelines of 2021 by questioning the right to privacy. According to them, the rules violate the right to privacy of users. The identification of the originator is the main point of criticism when it comes to WhatsApp. Since WhatsApp provides end-to-end encryption and the critics say these rules break the encryption breaking into the privacy of a user.

Another point of criticism is regulating news publishing platforms which according to the critics is targeting the right to freedom of speech and expression as they feel now anything criticizing the government can be called off from platforms.

Another side of the coin

According to the government for the originator’s point, The privacy and dignity of the victim are more important than the privacy of a person who is guilty for example if a sensitive image of a woman is shared by x person to y and then it goes viral. In this case, the privacy of that woman is more important than the person X. Also the government is saying that not all the messages or senders or receivers will be checked for identifying the originator instead only flagged ones will be taken into consideration. Any affected person has a right to go to court if he/she feels the privacy is violated without any reason.

In the case of publishing platforms, the government says that the objective is to protect the sentiments of people and stop the spreading of fake news.

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