The Central Government notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2022 (hereinafter referred to as “2022 Rules”) as a major push towards an Open, Safe and Trusted Accountable Internet.
As a part of these amendments the intermediaries will now be expected to ensure that there is no content uploaded that intentionally communicates any misinformation or information that is patently false or untrue, hence entrusting an important responsibility on the intermediaries.
These rules have also made it explicit for the intermediaries to act in accordance with the rights enshrined in the Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India (hereinafter referred to as the “Constitution”).
While notifying the 2022 Rules, it was explained that were included to make sure that the Internet is accessible, trustworthy, and accountable for all the digital nagriks. The Ministry conducted a thorough public consultation process that included input from all interested parties before notifying the public of the amendments.
KEY CHANGES INTRODUCED IN 2022 RULES
Currently, intermediaries are only required to warn users about the dangers of uploading specific types of harmful or illegal information. As a result of these amendments, intermediaries are now required by law to make reasonable attempts to stop users from submitting such content. The new clause will ensure that the intermediary’s responsibility is more than just a formality. Following are the key changes in the 2022 Rules :-
- Intermediaries to abide by Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution-
The amendment demands that intermediaries uphold the rights that users are accorded by the Constitution, including a justifiable expectation of diligence, privacy, and openness.
- Judicial Review to be conducted to decide if content is “defamatory” or “libelous”
The terms “defamatory” and “libelous” have been eliminated from the grounds in Rule 3(1)(b)(ii). From now on, a judicial review will be conducted in order to decide if the content is “defamatory” or “libelous”.
- Rule 3(1)(b) have been rephrased
In order to specifically address misinformation and content that can instigate violence between various religious or caste groups, certain content categories in Rule 3(1)(b) have been rephrased.
- Establishment of Grievance Appellate Committees
The establishment of Grievance Appellate Committees (hereinafter referred to as the “GAC”) will give customers the opportunity to challenge the inaction or judgments of intermediaries about their grievances. Users will however always be able to seek relief in court.
- GAC to decide on the appeal within 30 days.
Users can now appeal to the GAC, the decision of the Grievance Officer’s (hereinafter referred to as the “GO”) of the social media intermediaries over whether or not to remove the offending content. The users have 30 days from the day they received the GO’s decision to file an appeal. The GAC is supposed to decide on the appeal in 30 days.
- The intermediaries are required to provide solution within 15 days.
The Intermediaries are required to acknowledge the complain within and 24 hours and provide a solution for the same within 15 days from acknowledgment of the complaint.
- Rules and regulations to be communicated in regional language as well.
Lastly, it is mandated that the rules and regulations of the intermediary are communicated effectively in regional Indian languages as well.
Concerns with the IT Rules, 2021 included the use of arbitrary and opaque criteria to choose appeals for review, a lack of trust in an all-executive council, and the Government’s potential to have undisclosed influence over content moderation decisions. There have been number of concerns about social media networks’ lack of transparency in making decisions like “de-platforming” users, obscene content, content unsuitable for children, etc., and yet there were no proper mechanisms to address the same.
In the recent years, there have been major complaints regarding the action/inaction on the part of the intermediaries on user grievances regarding the objectionable content uploaded on social media, creating a havoc for the Digital Nagriks.
The Rules 2022 is a positive step towards addressing the challenges put forth before Rule 3A (1) of the 2022 Rules states that:
“Each Grievance Appellate Committee shall consist of a chairperson and two whole time members appointed by the Central Government, of which one shall be a member ex-officio and two shall be independent members.”
Thus, in case of any violation of the intermediaries’ guidelines by the intermediary users may file complaints with the GO of the relevant social media intermediaries. Users can now appeal to the GAC, against the decision of the GO of the social media intermediaries over whether or not to remove the offending content.
The users have 30 days from the day they received the GO’s decision to file an appeal. The GAC is supposed to decide on the appeal in 30 days. The GAC has the power to consult experts while making its decision on the appeal. The social media intermediary must follow the GAC’s directive, and in order to do so, it must provide a report on its website. The 2022 Rules also include provision for the GAC to resolve disputes online, thus leading towards a speedy resolution.
The 2022 Rules expressly demand that intermediaries uphold all of the rights guaranteed to citizens under Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution. The intermediaries are required to acknowledge the complaint within 24 hours and to provide a solution within 15 days.
However, complaints in the form of requests for the removal of information or communication links relating to pornographic or obscene content, content harmful for children, misleading content, content impersonating another person, content endangering India’s unity, integrity, or security, etc., shall be promptly resolved within 24 hours of reporting. According to the 2022 Rules, intermediaries may create the necessary safeguards to prevent user abuse.
Thus, it can be said that the 2022 Rules is a major step towards a new partnership between the Intermediaries and the Government in making and keeping the Internet safe and trusted for all the Digital Nagriks.
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