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The Internet has become an integral component of our daily lives. Social media, in particular, is a place where we can interact, network, and even start businesses. Live streaming material is also produced via apps such as YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. As an uploader or audience, we have very little control over the content once it is uploaded on the internet. Because of its open platform, the internet is frequently abused to the point that it is impossible to track and control the movements of billions of individuals.
On February 25, 2021, the government issued a new set of Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) rules also known as the Intermediary rules, 2021 (hereby referred to as “IT rules” in this article) to regulate social media, digital media and OTT platforms. These IT rules, as they have been transmitted to us, assist in improving our experience by limiting the bad content. These regulations will make it easier to ask the platform to reveal the source of the message or tweet. These changes have elicited a wide range of reactions from people all across the world. Others are fully opposed to it owing to its restrictions on freedom of speech and democracy, while pro-government groups defend it and declare it to be a fantastic reform to combat cyber-crime.
These IT restrictions were introduced because intermediaries such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube among others have a significant impact on citizens both positively and negatively. Intermediary is defined under section 2(v) as “significant social media intermediary‘ means a social media intermediary having number of registered users in India above such threshold as notified by the Central Government”. Because of unrestrained terrible and sensitive content, most of the time there is a negative impact rather than a positive one. People have been utterly glued to online streaming platforms to pass the time, especially since the onset of the pandemic. Children are not sufficiently monitored to ensure that what they are seeing is appropriate. Therefore, we can say that these rules will in fact filter the content more thoroughly.
Increased instances of social media usage, criminal activity, hate speech, and anti-national behavior have presented law enforcement authorities with several problems throughout the years. Since the start of the social media frenzy, the number of scams, frauds, trolls, and blackmailing has skyrocketed. Live streaming is frequently used to educate, blog, and participate in intimate interactions with celebrities. However, when a mass massacre in New Zealand was live streamed on Facebook, it had a negative impact and spread panic throughout the world. Defamatory, pornographic, or pedophilic content that harms or injures kids or others must not be stated or viewed on social media live streaming.
The structure of these Intermediary rules is divided into three parts. “While Part I of the Intermediary Rules mainly lays down the definitions of terms, Part II and Part III contain the actual compliances and requirements. Part II deals with the regulation of intermediaries, including social media intermediaries. Social media intermediaries include messaging-related intermediaries, such as WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram, and media-related intermediaries, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. This part is administered by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology or MeitY. Part III deals with the regulation of digital news media (though there is a lack of clarity on exactly which news media these Rules apply to) and OTT platforms, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+Hotstar. Part III is administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.”
To begin, some of the new restrictions for social media companies include removing content within 36 hours of getting a government notice and within 24 hours of receiving a user complaint. In addition, the terms of service and privacy policies will henceforth be revised at least once a year, if not more frequently. The grievance redressal system has also been overhauled, with the grievance redressal officer being accountable for recognising a complaint within 24 hours and resolving it within 15 days. They must also designate three officials with various duties, including a Chief Compliance Officer, a Nodal Person of Contact, and a Resident Grievance Officer, in addition to the requirements placed on intermediaries. All three of the above-mentioned officers are now legally obligated to live in India. In addition, even when the user deletes the account, the intermediaries are now required to keep the data for 180 days for investigation purposes. The intermediaries are required to track down the original source of content that authorities regard to be anti-national.
For the most part, these rules will aid in the fight against cybercrime and will also protect many victims from further pain. At the same time, there are several issues that must be addressed before we implement these guidelines in our daily lives. To identify the source of flagged communications, messaging applications like What’s App and Signal will have to weaken end-to-end encryption. This is clear infringement on right to privacy under the ambit of Article 21 of Constitution of India. The phrase “anti-national activity” is ambiguous, and it is entirely up to the authorities to define what constitutes such behavior. If we are compelled to watch what we say all of the time, we will lose the freedom of expression that we are guaranteed by the constitution. The recent instance in Manipur, in which a journalist was issued a notice signed by the magistrate and handed over by the police, requesting that he provide all essential papers demonstrating compliance with the new guidelines. This warning was posted in response to a discussion on a Facebook page. The chief secretary then retracted the warning after learning that such notices are only sent once a year. This may appear to be a minor mistake, but it demonstrates how authorities across the country interpret these regulations in order to maintain control over individual speech and online presence rather than as a check on large corporations.
“India is among the top three internet markets with close to 700 million users and its digital policy making is being followed closely. If companies accede to government diktats in India, they can’t refuse to do elsewhere, according to internet and legal experts.” The prohibition of the Chinese app tiktok and the popular game PUBG in India resulted in significant losses for the individual firms, forcing them to relaunch the gaming app under a different brand. The regulation of the OTT streaming sector, on the other hand, would harm not just individual rights but also national interests. In terms of creating high-quality content, India is becoming a major rival to the United States and South Korea. This generates both local and worldwide jobs and enjoyment. Any such restriction would have a significant negative impact on the Indian economy and would jeopardize India’s rising cultural influence. Because Indian consumers rely on these platforms to transmit personal information and rely on the protection and privacy it provides, the loss of end-to-end encryption will do more harm. This modification would also expose the whole public to code injection attacks, identity theft, and other threats. The content’s originating user has no influence over who forwards it or how many times it is forwarded. Some rules may work in our favour, while others may not. However, given India’s massive impact in the global digital economy, corporations will want to reach an agreement to comply with the standards.
The new IT rules, which took effect in 2021, have both positive and bad consequences. It might be inferred that this is yet another instrument in the government’s arsenal for using and suppressing individual viewpoints. However, it is important to note that these regulations aid in the regulation of live streaming content. If it is not exploited and misinterpreted, it will also benefit the general public. It should be clearly communicated to all authorities around the country that these guidelines should not be rushed into effect. However, before taking action, you must first examine and evaluate the issue.
- Government of India, “MINISTRY OF ELECTRONICS AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY NOTIFICATION” (Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, 2021).
- Surabhi Agarwal, “India’s new social media rules seen echoing globally” The Economic Times, Mar. 1, 2021. < https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/technology/indias-new-social-media-rules-seen-echoing-globally/articleshow/81264441.cms> (last visited on Aug. 20, 2021).
- Ayush Verma, “Impact of IT Rules 2021 on live streaming content on social media” available at: https://blog.ipleaders.in/impact-it-rules-2021-live-streaming-content-social-media/ (last visited on Aug. 20, 2021).
- Internet Freedom Foundation, “Explainer: Why India’s new rules for social media, news sites are anti-democratic, unconstitutional” Scroll.in, Feb.27,2021.<https://scroll.in/article/988105/explainer-how-indias-new-digital-media-rules-are-anti-democratic-and-unconstitutional> (last visited on Aug 20, 2021).
- Scroll Staff, “Four reasons to be worried about India’s new IT rules that are supposed to regulate Big Tech” Scroll.in, Aug.20,2021.< https://scroll.in/article/988448/four-reasons-to-be-worried-about-indias-new-it-rules-that-are-supposed-to-regulate-big-tech> (last visited on Aug 20, 2021).
- Anonymous, “Explainer: How the New IT Rules Take Away Our Digital Rights” The Wire, Feb. 26, 2021. < https://thewire.in/tech/explainer-how-the-new-it-rules-take-away-our-digital-rights> (last visited on Aug. 20, 2021).
Author: Alekhya Reddy Kalam, OP Jindal Global University
Editor: Kanishka Vaish, Senior Editor, LexLife India.