Theme : Science & Tech
Paper : GS - 3
Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) has notified amendments to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (IT Rules, 2021) on October 28. These are aimed at making the internet open, safe, trusted, and accountable, for the ‘digital nagrika’ of the country.
TABLE OF CONTENT
- IT Rules 2021
- Proposed Amendments
- Additional Obligations Placed On Social Media Intermediaries
- Grievance Appellate Committee (GAC)
- Concerns about GAC
Context : Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) has notified amendments to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (IT Rules, 2021) on October 28. These are aimed at making the internet open, safe, trusted, and accountable, for the ‘digital nagrika’ of the country.
IT Rules 2021 :
- Regulating SMI’s: World over, governments are grappling with the issue of regulating social media intermediaries (SMIs).
- Addressing the issues of SMI controlling the free speech: Given the multitudinous nature of the problem the centrality of SMIs in shaping public discourse, the impact of their governance on the right to freedom of speech and expression, the magnitude of information they host and the constant technological innovations that impact their governance it is important for governments to update their regulatory framework to face emergent challenges.
- Placing obligations on SMI: In a bid to keep up with these issues, India in 2021, replaced its decade old regulations on SMIs with the IT Rules, 2021 that were primarily aimed at placing obligations on SMIs to ensure an open, safe and trusted internet.
Proposed Amendments :
Draft amendments in June 2022, the stated objectives of the amendments were threefold:
- Protecting the constitutional rights: there was a need to ensure that the interests and constitutional rights of netizens are not being contravened by big tech platforms,
- Grievance redressal: to strengthen the grievance redressal framework in the Rules,
- To avoid the dominance: that compliance with these should not impact early-stage Indian start-ups.
Additional Obligations Placed On Social Media Intermediaries :
- Prevent the prohibited content: Further, SMIs are required to “make reasonable” efforts to prevent prohibited content being hosted on its platform by the users.
- SMIs have to respect rights under constitution: Second, a similar concern arises with the other newly introduced obligation on SMIs to “respect all the rights accorded to the citizens under the Constitution, including in the articles 14, 19 and 21”. Given the importance of SMIs in public discourse and the implications of their actions on the fundamental rights of citizens, the horizontal application of fundamental rights is laudable.
- Remove the content within 72 hours: SMIs are now obligated to remove information or a communication link in relation to the six prohibited categories of content as and when a complaint arises. They have to remove such information within 72 hours of the complaint being made. Given the virality with which content spreads, this is an important step to contain the spread of the content.
- Ensuring the accessibility of services: SMIs have been obligated to “take all reasonable measures to ensure accessibility of its services to users along with reasonable expectation of due diligence, privacy and transparency”.
Grievance Appellate Committee (GAC) :
- Composition of GAC: The government has instituted Grievance Appellate Committees (GAC). The committee is styled as a three-member council out of which one member will be a government officer (holding the post ex officio) while the other two members will be independent representatives.
- Complaint within 30 days: Users can file a complaint against the order of the grievance officer within 30 days.
- Online dispute resolution: The GAC is required to adopt an online dispute resolution mechanism which will make it more accessible to the users.
Concerns about GAC :
- Confusion over GAC and High courts: It is unclear whether this is a compulsory tier of appeal or not, that is will the user have to approach the grievance appellate committee before approaching the court. The confusion arises from the fact that the press notes expressly stated that the institution of the GAC would not bar the user from approaching the court directly against the order of the grievance officer. However, the final amendments provide no such indication.
- Apprehensions about appointment by central government: While this makes the inhouse grievance redressal more accountable and appellate mechanism more accessible to users, appointments being made by the central government could lead to apprehensions of bias in content moderation.
- GAC doesn’t have enforcement power: Further, the IT Rules, 2021 do not provide any explicit power to the GAC to enforce its orders.
- Overlapping jurisdiction of courts and appellate: if users can approach both the courts and the GAC parallelly, it could lead to conflicting decisions often undermining the impartiality and merit of one institution or the other.
1. What is the Composition of GAC?
Answer : The government has instituted Grievance Appellate Committees (GAC). The committee is styled as a three-member council out of which one member will be a government officer (holding the post ex officio) while the other two members will be independent representatives.
2. Within what duration, Complaint can be filed?
Answer : Complaint within 30 days: Users can file a complaint against the order of the grievance officer within 30 days.