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A week after rescinding, MeitY releases fresh proposal for amendments to IT Rules 2021

MeitY has released fresh proposed amendments with clarifications a week after it withdrew an earlier proposal of changes to the IT Rules 2021

“The IT Rules, 2021 provide for a robust grievance redressal mechanism. However, there have been many instances that grievance officers of intermediaries either do not address the grievances satisfactorily and/or fairly. In such a scenario, the need for an appellate forum has been proposed to protect the rights and interests of user,” the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) said, in a press note accompanying new proposal for amendments to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code), Rules 2021.

Less than a week after rescinding an earlier copy, on 6th June MeitY released a new version of its proposed amendments for public consultation. The amendment proposed controversial additions to the rules such as a new Grievance Appellate Committee (GAC) which would essentially allow government officers to become an authority above a platform’s content moderation decisions- possibly increasing government censorship- and adds a requirement for intermediaries to respect citizens’ ‘constitutional’ rights, among others.

While most of the provisions remain the same, the new document clarifies on some of the proposed amendments, lays out MeitY’s reasoning for them and also specifies that the amendment will not apply to early stage Indian companies or start-ups. On 2nd June, MediaNama had reported that the proposal released for public consultation was withdrawn a day after its release.

Comments on the proposal have been invited until 7th August and can be mailed to dhawal.gupta@meity.gov.in, notan.roy@meity.gov.in in either MS Word (or compatible format) or machine readable PDF format.

Reasoning provided for the proposed amendments

  1. Shorter timeline in dealing with user grievances:

The amendment proposes that intermediaries should respond to requests for removal within 72 hours. However, it adds that intermediaries can develop safeguards to prevent misuse of such provisions.

Clarification: The new amendment says that user grievances or requests other than those related to removal of certain content can continue to be disposed of within 15 days.

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Reason for proposing a change: ‘The very nature of cyberspace providing instant communication, outreach and virality,’ are the reason why the response time period on content removal requests has been changed to 72 hours, the new amendment says

“This will help to ensure that problematic content is removed expeditiously, and does not become viral over a sustained period of time,” – New IT Rules amendment.

On the suggestion for developing safeguards to prevent misuse, the new amendment says this would be in the grievance redressal mechanism.It gives the following example for a use case for the same:

“For example, where a user submits any inappropriate, trivial or inauthentic complaint, the intermediary may exercise due diligence to prevent such misuse,” – New IT Rules amendment.

2021 Rules:  The 2021 Rules simply say that an intermediary would have to acknowledge a complaint sent to the GO related to a violation of the IT Rules or any other issue within 24 hours and dispose of it within a period of 15 days from the date of its receipt.

  1. Provisions for a Grievance Appellate Committee

“Any person aggrieved by an order made by the Grievance Officer under clause (a) and clause (b) of sub-rule (2) of rule 3 may prefer an appeal to the Grievance Appellate Committee having jurisdiction in the matter within a period of 30 days of receipt of communication from the Grievance Officer,” the amendment proposes.

Clarification: The new document says that the GAC will be formed under Section 79 of the Information technology Act and additional guidelines could be issued on the same, by the government. Sec. 79 gives intermediaries conditional indemnity from unlawful third party content on their platform.

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Reason for proposing a change: “This is made necessary because currently there is no appellate mechanism provided by intermediaries nor is there any credible self-regulatory mechanism in place,” the new amendment says.

2021 Rules: The current rules do not make a provision for such a Grievance Appellate Committee.

  1. Ensuring compliance with the privacy policy and other terms

The 2022 amendment proposes adding a proviso to a clause in the rules that not only shall an intermediary inform their rules, privacy policy, user agreement to the user, they shall also cause the user not to host, display, upload, modify, publish, etc. information outlined in due diligence requirements of the rules concerning proactive removal of defamatory, obscene, pornographic, infringing on copyrights, etc. content.

Reason for proposing a change: While intermediaries could have their community standards, the amendment that an intermediary will cause a user not to post certain types of content (as outlined in the rules) will ensure trust, safety, accountability of intermediaries, and ensure enforcement of the IT Rules 2021 in letter and spirit, the new amendment says.

2021 Rules: The 2021 Rules ask that intermediaries publish the aforementioned policies and agreements prominently on their website, mobile application or both. Due diligence requirements also ask them to inform the users not about not posting certain content which have been outlined in the IT Rules, as defamatory, obscene, pornographic, infringing on copyrights, etc.

  1. Expectation that intermediaries ‘respect constitutional rights’

The amendment proposed adding the following clauses to the rules:

“The intermediary shall respect the rights accorded to the citizens under the Constitution of India,”

2021 Rules:  The 2021 Rules do not mention these.

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Reason for proposing a change: “This has been made necessary because a number of Intermediaries have acted in violation of constitutional rights of Indian citizens and keeping in mind that Government is the guarantor of such rights of all our citizens,” the new amendment says.

Principles specified for the IT Rules amendment

The new document also specifies certain principles, on which the IT Rules. are based.

While one of them is protecting user rights and interest by setting up a Grievance Redressal Committee, below are the others:

  • “The Internet should be Open, Safe & Trusted and Accountable for ALL Indians using the Internet – our Digital Nagriks.
    • That ALL online intermediaries providing services in India shall never contravene the Indian constitution, Laws and Rules, and follow them in letter and spirit.
    • Unlawful and harmful information violative of their own terms and conditions shall be quickly removed when reported by users, while also providing the users a reasonable opportunity to respond in case of significant social media platforms”

Other changes also proposed under the amendment

  1. Opportunity to dispute actions taken by platforms:

The draft proposes that a user should be provided an opportunity to dispute any action taken by an intermediary, including asking for reinstatement of any content that is taken down. It further says that this should be decided upon by a platform’s Resident Grievance Officer as per the above mentioned timeline (72 hours) for dealing with user complaints

2021 Rules: The Rules simply say that such a dispute will be decided on ‘within a reasonable amount of time’.

  1. Expectations of transparency

The amendment proposes adding the following clause to the rules:

“Intermediary shall take all reasonable measures to ensure accessibility of its services to users along with reasonable expectation of due diligence, privacy and transparency.”

2021 Rules:  The 2021 Rules do not mention these.

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Written By

I cover health technology for MediaNama but, really, love all things tech policy. Always willing to chat with a reader! Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

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

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