India’s new Information Technology Rules, 2021

Our world has significantly progressed over the years and so have the ways of acquiring or passing Information. With everything going online, the digital medium has now become the new “normal”. 

With the advent of the internet came the boom of information which was soon followed by a bang  of widespread misinformation.

Figuring out the correct information thus became a challenge in today’s world. The new IT rules seem to play a major role in this aspect.

On 26th May 2021 The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) wrote to all significant social media intermediaries(SSMIs) — who have over 50 lakh registered users in the country, requesting details of compliance with the new guidelines.

The new IT Rules:

Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 under the provision of the Information Technology Act, 2000 — are the new guidelines notified by the Government of India on 25th February 2021. These new Rules supersede the erstwhile notified Information Technology(Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2011.

The rules are to be followed by:

  • All intermediaries as defined in the IT Act, 2000.
  • Additional set of due diligence for SSMI.

The information asked from the SSMIs are as follows:

  • Name of App./ Website/ service falling within the scope of significant social media intermediary 
  • The details of:
    • Chief Compliance Officer and the contact details
    • Nodal Contact Person and the contact details
    • Resident Grievance Officer and the contact details
    • The physical contact address in India
  • Compliance status of these Rules.

Apart from what’s mentioned above MeitY has also asked to provide reasons in case a company is not considered a SSMI including the registered users on each of the services provided by that company. 

The letter also mentions that the Government reserves the right to seek any additional information,as may be permitted within these Rules and the IT Act.

The current conflicts:

While Facebook, Google and Koo have agreed to comply with India’s new IT rules, not everyone is on board. Facebook’s subsidiary, WhatsApp, has moved the Delhi High Court to sue the Indian government over its new regulations.

Here are some of the key issues that are causing worry amidst social media companies like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and others due to the new IT rules.

  • ’Significant’ intermediaries
    • The government has asked major social media platforms to have a chief compliance officer, a nodal contact person and a grievance officer all of whom are required to be residents of India.
  • Break encryption
    • The government has asked Whatsapp to break the end-to-end encryption. The main motive is to track the “first originator” of any message. According to the government, such requests will only be made when there is a sexually explicit content being circulated or there is a threat to national security. 
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) to monitor “objectionable” terms
    • The Indian government also wants ‘significant’ social media intermediaries to monitor online content using artificial intelligence (AI).
    • The problem is that while ‘pre-moderation’ can be done using AI, the post moderation which only the humans can best perform.
    • While AI is definitely necessary, there are limitations to how far it can go. Online content is constantly evolving and with more people coming online, the amount of content to moderate will only increase. 

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