Govt Notifies New Rules Governing Digital Media

Friday 26th February, 2021

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Move expected to significantly alter the way social media firms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter as well as streaming services Netflix and AMazon Prime operate in the country Govt Notifies New Rules Governing Digital Media Our Bureaus New Delhi | Bengaluru | Mumbai: The Centre on Thursday notified new regulations governing the digital media industry to ensure greater compliance with locallaws, in amoveexpectedtosignificantly alter the way soclal media companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter as well as popular streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime operate inthe country. The notification also expanded the definition of digital media by mandating news portals to follow similar norms that govern traditional media publishers, such as newSpapers and television news channels. By notifying The Information Technology (Intermediary GuideHnes and Digltal Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, under the Section 79 of tne Information Technology Act, India has probably taken the toughest stand on regulation of SOSOCIAL MEDIA Rules Seek To Empower DIGITAL MEDIA & OTT PLATFORMS Seek to address concerns wer Users Of Digital Platforms digital content through.... & Ensure Accountability 1] Tighter timelines to Ke 1] Self regulation & seif-classification down uniawful content, assist of content 3] Three-tler grievance redressal mechanism jlaw enforcement Umiversal, adult etc | 4) subjects digital 2] Identify first orig 2] code of ethics | news medla to Inator of a message that -To follow pressame laws as Causes Identified offence cribed guidelines | traditional medla 3] Stricter rules for bigger platforms, Including local presence intermediary will | Liabie to J_ Voluntary user verification mechanism lose Its safe harbour punishment under cial media and over the top (OTT) platforms in the world, said experts. The revised guidelines, officials said, seek to ensure that companies are also more accountable for thecontent on their platforms while complying with local laws and government orders. Foreign Coshaveto SetupindlaOffices 6 from user content IT Act or IPC Foreign Cos have to Set up India Offices FromPage1 Scores of foreign digital companies with millions of users in India have to necessarily set up India offices with locally appointed officers who whl be responsible for adhering to requests ranging from traceability of messages to taking down content. Union minister for electronics and IT, Ravi Shankar Prasad said that concerns have beenraisedover rampantabuse of social media platforms and spread of fake news. "Social media companiesare welcome todo business in Indiaandempower Indians... we welcome criticism and dissent... but it is Important that users of SOCclal media are given a proper forum for resolution of their grievances in a time-bound manner," Prasad said. Soclal media platforms have been mandated to take down flagged posts within 36 hours of receiving a notice while encrypted messaging apps, Including WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram have been directed to trace the originator of contentious messages. They have to also introduce a mechanism for voluntary veriflcation of identity of usersasameanstocurbfakeand anonymous posts on social media. Companies willalso have toset up automated tools to weed out certain Kinds of messages and delete messages upon requests from users within 24hoursif the context issexual in nature. The new rules, which have been in the making since 2018, come close onthe heels of ahuge stand-off between the unton government and micro-bloggtng platform Twitter over the Americancompany'srefusaltoblock handles alleged tobe f0menting unrest over the country's recently announced farm laws. Globally, the impact of these new regulations on digltal companies will be closely watched since India is one of the world's largest Internet markets with over 700 million users. Facebook said it will careful1y study the new rules but maintained that it is committed to play an enabling role in the digital transformation of India . "We have always been clear as acompany that we welcome regulations that set guldelines for addressing today's toughest challenges on the Internet. Facebook is committed to people's ability to freely and safely express themselves on our platforms," said arepresentative for Facebook. "We acknowledge and appreciate the recognition from the Minister on the positive contributions of sOcialmediatothecountry. Facebook ts an ally for India and the agenda Of user safety and security is a crttical one for our platforms," the person stated. Google, Twitter, Signal and Telegram did not respond to ET'srequest for comments. Prasadsaid that there will be acategory of "signiflcant social media intermediaries" which will be required to appoint a Chtef Compliance Officer, resident in India to ensure compliance with the rWles, a nodal person of contact fOr 24X7 coordination with law enforcement agencies along with a "Resident Grievance Officer". The criteria for such companies which will be decided based on the number of users will be announced soon, he said. Also, they will be given an additional three months' time to comply with the new rules. "The googly inthe rules is mandating Indianresidents aschief compliance and grievance officers. One needs to look at whether this will create permanent establishment issues InIndia and increasetax burdenon these companies. They may have to relook at thelr existing Structure," said Nikhil Narendran, a partner atlaw firm Trilegal. Union information & broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar, whoannounced thattheexpansion of the Press Council of India (PCD rules to accommodate online content is being worked upon, said is sues relating to content, especially media, OTT and digital media wlll be administered by the I&B ministry. Monitoring of intermediary platforms (social media companies) will continue to be handled Dy the IT ministry, hesaid. Experts belteve the direct implication of the new rules that bring online news under PCI regulation will be that criminal proceedings canbeinitiated against online publishers if thecontentisfound violating any law of the land and such content can also be taken down. "Digital media portals have no right to spread rumours. Medla's freedom is absolute but with reasonable restrictions. We felt there was a need to create a level playing field. We are asking digital news portals to first declare their details and then foUow the same PCI rules that are applicable to other news media," the minister said. The new norms governing news Portals come at a time when the g0vernment is working at bettering itsglobal ranking on the press freedom index. REGULATING OTT Meanwhlle, the code of ethics and self-regulation mechanism for video streaming services popularly known as the over-the-top (OTT) players are also expected to have 2 far-reaching effect on the sector. While allowing for self-regwlation, the government has tightened its gTtp over the redressal mechanism by forming a three-tier structure, where the mdividual players will have only one level of self-regulation mechanism. "The rules are tryingtoregulate the more unsavoury features of social media and OTT contentpornographic content and fake news being the two mostobviousproblems. Therealissue, which we will have to wait and watch, is to see how the rules are implemented and whether more bureaucratic supervision will lead to more stifling of freedom of expression," said Nigam Niggehalli, Dean of BML Munjal University. Privacy activists such as The Internet Freedom Foundation took to Twitter saying that "the first concern we are highlighting is the covert regulation of OTT and news media platforms through proxy. The draft IT Rules have defined a "Code of Ethics and Procedure and Safeguards in Relation to Digital/ Online Media". "There are better ways to tackle such content than sliding down the slope of automated censorship & survetllance culture," itadded. Arguing that introducing the requirement of traceability of the originator of information, will break end-to-end encryption, the forum stated that, "many platforms (Whats App, Signaletc.)retain minimal user data and use E2E. encryption to provide privacy to users." Mayank Btdawatka, cofounder of home-grown microblogging platform Koo, meanwhile defended the scope of the regulations saying that it "helps clarify the responsibilities of intermediaries." "Enabling and maintaining freedom of speech is core to soctal media platforms, We will continue to work In the best interest of our Users at all times and ensure that they have a great experience. At the same time, we are committed to abideby thelaws of theland," hesaid.