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Exclusive: What FICCI said to MEITY on Intermediary Rules

You’re reading it here first: The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) wrote a letter to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) requesting an extension of time in implementing the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. MediaNama has read a copy of the undated letter by FICCI Secretary General Dilip Chenoy to MEITY Secretary Ajay Prakash Sawhney. The Rules, notified in February, put social media companies and OTT streaming services on a tight leash, with strict content takedown provisions for companies like Facebook and Twitter. We have reached out to FICCI and Chenoy for comment.

Here’s what FICCI requested from the government in the letter:

  1. Extension of one year, more time to takedown: The industry body requested an extension of time limit for compliance of one year, a significant demand considering that the industry has been given hardly a couple months to come into total compliance. FICCI cited the complexity of building systems to comply quickly as a justification for the timeframe. The industry body also said that 72 hours was too little time to comply with takedown requests, and requested more time for this.
  2. Limit to scope of IT Act: The letter goes on to say that intermediary liability protections under the Shreya Singhal judgement need to be respected, and observes that procedural safeguards under Section 69A of the IT Act are not in the Rules. It also said that granting blocking powers to an Inter-Departmental Committee by the government to oversee this regulation was not consistent with the IT Act and jurisprudence thereof. It recommended the creation of Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs) for compliance.
  3. Criminal liability: The letter says that the potential for criminal liability created by the Rules’s tight time limits and their requirement to hire a chief compliance officer (for significant social media intermediaries) puts companies and their employees at risk of criminal liability. Employees do not have criminal liabilities for the actions of their companies, the letter asserted. The letter also asked that the government clarify that it will not pursue parallel criminal proceedings while a matter is being examined under the Rules.
  4. Only central govt should have authority: The letter warned against providing state governments with blocking authority under the IT Rules, arguing it would overburden companies by subjecting them to multiple authorities. Only the central government should have that power, the letter argued.
  5. SRBs should be able to draft their own code of practices: The IT Rules say that the government will soon put out codes of practice for self-regulatory bodies required to be formed. These codes of practice should be allowed to be formulated by the industry itself, the letter argued.
  6. Govt can deal with unresolved complaints: The letter implicitly okays the government’s three-tier complaints system, but with the caveat that any complaints referred to the government’s inter-departmental committee should first be dealt with the company in question, and then its self-regulatory body; and only after these recourses are exhausted should the complaint be addressed by the government.

The letter by FICCI — which never put out a press release outlining its stance on the Rules — is a revealing indicator of how digital companies affected by the subordinate legislation are reacting to the new regulations they are subject to. None of the companies involved has explicitly supported or opposed the Rules, preferring to discuss compliance and concerns directly with the government. FICCI requested a meeting with MEITY to discuss the concerns it outlined in the letter.

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