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RS Prasad, Prakash Javadekar resign from Council of Ministers ahead of Cabinet reshuffle

Ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar have resigned from the Council of Ministers ahead of the cabinet expansion later on Wednesday in New Delhi, the Union government said.

While Prasad held the Law and Justice; Communications; and Electronics and Information Technology portfolios, Javedkar held Environment, Forest and Climate Change; Information and Broadcasting; and Heavy Industries and Public Enterprise portfolios.

A press communique from the office of President of India said, “President of India as advised by Prime Minister, has accepted the resignation of the following members of Council of Ministers, with immediate effect…” They are —

  • DV Sadananda Gowda
  • Ravi Shankar Prasad
  • Thaawarchand Gehlot
  • Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’
  • Dr Harsh Vardhan
  • Prakash Javadekar
  • Santosh Kumar Gangwar
  • Babul Supriyo
  • Dhotre Sanjay Shamrao
  • Rattan Lal Kataria
  • Pratap Chandra Sarangi
  • Debasree Chaudhuri

The new ministers for these portfolios have not been announced yet. This is the first reshuffle in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second term.

These developments come at a time when the new Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 and the OTT Rules, which come under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) respectively, have raised several concerns among key stakeholders.

The Intermediary Guidelines and the Digital Media Ethics Code have increased governmental regulatory oversight over the workings of social media platforms and digital media platforms with the help of mechanisms such as grievance redressal systems, inter-governmental committees, and so on.

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Social media platforms vs RS Prasad’s MeitY

The IT Rules 2021 has been a bone of contention for social media platforms such as Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Twitter. Some provisions of the rules such as the appointment of a grievance redressal officer, chief compliance officer, and the requirement of disclosing the sole originator of a message/content on a platform, have been flagged by social media platforms as being concerning.

WhatsApp: The traceability mandate of the IT Rules indicate that WhatsApp, which uses end-to-end encryption for all messages on the platform, may have to break the said encryption for revealing an originator of a message. The platform had expressed its displeasure in this regard but the RS Prasad-led Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has been unyielding through his demands for compliance.

Prasad had earlier said, “The entire debate on whether encryption would be maintained or not is misplaced. Whether Right to Privacy is ensured through using encryption technology or some other technology is entirely the purview of the social media intermediary. The Government of India is committed to ensuring the Right of Privacy to all its citizens as well as have the means and the information necessary to ensure public order and maintain national security. It is WhatsApp’s responsibility to find a technical solution, whether through encryption or otherwise, that both happen.”

On May 27, two days after the deadline to comply with the IT Rules, the messaging platform approached the Delhi High Court challenging the provision of the rules that states that the platform has to trace the first originator of the message. WhatsApp, in its plea, had said that the rules would require the platform to break its “end-to-end” encryption, a feature it claims provides complete privacy to messages on the platform

Twitter: The root of the ongoing tussle between Twitter and the Union government (as well as various police forces) can be found in the IT Rules 2021. As of Wednesday, Twitter is yet to fully comply with IT Rules 2021 that went into effect on May 25. The platform had appointed a resident grievance officer, nodal contact person, and chief compliance officer on an interim basis, but the government pointed out that the grievance officer and nodal contact person nominated by the company were not employees of the platform and the office address submitted by the company was that of a law firm. To make matters worse, Dharmendra Chatur, Twitter’s interim grievance officer resigned from his position on June 28.

RS Prasad had time and again criticised Twitter’s non-compliance to the Rules. The matter took a turn for the worse when Prasad claimed he was locked out of his Twitter account. Although the account was restored within an hour, Prasad called out Twitter for taking actions that were in violation of the IT Rules.

“Twitter’s actions indicate that they are not the harbinger of free speech that they claim to be but are only interested in running their own agenda, with the threat that if you do not tow the line they draw, they will arbitrarily remove you from their platform,” Prasad added.

Javadekar’s OTT Rules and Digital Media Ethics Code rules

Earlier this year, Javadekar’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting introduced the rules which require streaming services to accept complaints from viewers. Thus, in addition to the self-regulation system that streaming services created to avoid government regulation, they will now be subjected to two more layers of oversight.

Although the streaming services have uniformly refused or ignored requests for comment on their reaction to the Rules, Javadekar had claimed that the former have welcome the rules.

However, it is the Digital Media Ethics Code rules which have been most controversial in nature, as according to various media outlets, the rules violate several fundamental rights, including that of Freedom of Press. Several media associations and organisations such as the Digital News Publishers Association, The Wire, The NewsMinute, The Quint, and others have approached various High Courts challenging the rules. Earlier, Javadekar, after a meeting with representatives of the digital media, had claimed that stakeholders were ‘happy’ with the new rules.

Also read

Update, July 7, 6.35 pm: A grammatical error in the headline has been rectified
Update, July 7, 8 pm: Added more details to the story regarding RS Prasad and Prakash Javadekar in their respective roles as the Minister for Electronics and Information Technology and Minister for Information and Broadcasting

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

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