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Exclusive: IT Ministry’s RTI response says Signal has not yet complied with the IT Rules 2021

Being a social media intermediary with more than 50 lakh users, Signal is required to make specific appointments under the IT Rules 2021 which came into effect on May 25.  

You are reading it here first: End-to-end encrypted messaging platform Signal Messenger has not yet complied with the Information Technology (Intermediary Rules and Digital Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) confirmed to MediaNama in response to a Right to Information (RTI) request. In the RTI, MeitY also said that ‘it does not maintain compliance status (to the IT Rules 2021), of all intermediaries”.

In the RTI, MediaNama had inquired whether Signal has complied with the IT Rules 2021 and if it has, requested MeitY to provide details of Grievance Redressal Officer, Chief Compliance Officer — as mandated to be appointed under the rules. The ministry on July 13, simply said ‘No’ to the question. Earlier, a Hindustan Times report from June 24, citing unnamed sources had claimed that the Moxie Marlinspike-headed Signal was not in compliance with the new rules.

Why it matters? MeitY’s response comes at a time the Indian government has been up in arms against micro-blogging platform Twitter for not complying with the rules that were notified in February 2021. Both Signal and Twitter are significant social media intermediaries (SSMIs) as they have more than 50 lakh users in India, but there is a stark difference in the way the Indian government has dealt with their non-compliance. The Indian government had written numerous letters to Twitter urging it to provide details of appointments made in accordance with the Rules and had given ‘one last warning’ to the social media platform saying that if it failed to comply, it would lose its status as an intermediary and ergo lose exemption from liability as mandated under the IT Act, 2000. However, based on MeitY’s response to a request in the RTI, it seems like the Indian government had sent only one letter regarding non-compliance with the IT Rules to Signal.

No response from Signal to IT Ministry’s letter

The RTI requested MeitY to provide copies of letters it had sent to Signal regarding compliance with the IT Rules 2021. The ministry replied with a screenshot of a letter written by S Sathyanarayanan, Scientist ‘D’/Joint Director in the Cyber Laws and e-Security Division in MeitY. The screenshot also showed that the email had an attachment ‘Meity Letter to SSMI Platforms_Rules_26th May 2021.pdf’, but the attachment was not provided in the RTI.

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The email to Signal read, “Dear sir/madam. Please find attached herewith from MeitY on subject cited above. You are kindly requested to take action, as appropriate. A line of confirmation will be highly appreciated.” A source confirmed to MediaNama that as of July 15, Signal still has not responded to the email, thus not complying with the IT Rules 2021, and that the attachment in question was a common letter the ministry had sent to all significant social media intermediaries.

Letter requested details of appointments made under IT Rules

In a letter, the Indian government had asked SSMIs to provide full details of compliance with the rules. Written by Rakesh Maheshwari on May 26, group coordinator of the Cyber Law division in MeitY, the ministry has asked for details of compliance to the IT Rules 2021 by the platforms, including details of the

  • Chief compliance officer and contact details
  • Nodal Contact Person and contact details
  • Resident grievance officer and contact details
  • Physical contact address

Apart from that, in response to a separate question regarding the compliance of another messaging platform to the IT Rules, MeitY responded by saying, “MeitY does not maintain compliance status of all intermediaries.” This would suggest that MeitY has certain parameters (if any) to gauge whose compliance status it should maintain and whose it should not — which begs the question: What are they?

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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