New IT Rules 2021
28/05/2021

Tags:

Context:

  • The Information Technology Rules, 2021 have now come into force. Social Media companies will lose their protection under Section 79 of the IT Act if they fail to comply with new rules.

Background:

  • The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 came into force on 26th May 2021. 
  • They aim to regulate the flow of information over social media, digital news media, and over-the-top (OTT) content providers.

About the new IT rules:

  • It mandates all social media platforms to set up a grievances, redressal, and compliance mechanism.
  • This includes appointing a resident grievance officer,chief compliance officer, and a nodal contact person.
    • Chief Compliance Officer shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and Rules.
    • Nodal Contact Person will do 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies.
    • Resident Grievance Officer shall receive and resolve complaints from users. The officer must acknowledge the complaint within 24 hours and resolve it within 15 days of receipt.
  • The platforms must submit monthly reports on complaints received from users and actions taken. 
  • Further, the platforms providing the feature of instant messaging need to track the first originator of a message.
  • However, non-compliance with new rules would take away the protection granted to social media intermediaries under Section 79 of the IT Act.

What is Section 79 of the IT Act?

  • It states that any intermediary shall not be held legally or otherwise liable for any third-party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted on its platform.
  • The protection is available if the intermediary doesn’t:
    • initiate the transmission of the message in question, 
    • select the receiver of the transmitted message 
    • modify any information contained in the transmission
    • tamper with any evidence of the concerned messages
  • Further, the intermediary would not be granted protection if it does not immediately disable access to the material under question as per the government order.
  • The need to provide protection to intermediaries from actions of third parties came into focus following a police case in 2004. 
    • Under this, the chief executive officer of bazee.com and his associates were booked for allowing the auctioning of pornographic material on their website. They were held guilty under Section 85 of the IT Act. 
      • The section says that when a company commits an offense under the IT Act, all its executives should be held liable and proceeded against.
  • However, this decision was overturned by SC in 2012. The court held that the website and its executives could not be held accountable since they were not directly involved in the said transaction. After this, the IT Act was amended to introduce Section 79.

Issue:

  • WhatsApp argues against the requirement for social media platforms to compulsorily enable “the identification of the first originator of the information” in India upon government or court order, which is included in the rules.
  • It argued that breaking end-to-end encryption infringes on citizens’ rights’ such as the fundamental rights to privacy and free speech.
  • It highlighted the landmark judgment of the Supreme Court in the KS Puttaswamy case, where it held that the right to privacy is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution.
    • Also, recently the Supreme Court has affirmed that the right to privacy included the right to anonymity.
  1.  petitions have been filed by several news portals, over its attempt to regulate digital news media.
    • They claim that the new rules seek to regulate online news portals by imposing a vaguely worded “Code of Ethics”.
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