The foundation to the new Information Technology, 2021 rules is found to be grounded in the Information and Technology Act, 2000. These rules are a subordinate legislation of India’s Intermediary Guidelines rules, 2011. These rules are formed and supported with the help of Central government of India, Ministry of electronics and Information technology (MietY) and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB). The 2021 rules are stemmed from section 87 0f the IT Act, 2000 and are a combination of the draft Intermediary Guidelines 2018 and the OTT regulations and code of Ethics for digital media. During Monsoon session of the parliament in 2018, a motion of “ misuse of social media platform and spreading of fake news” was admitted. Which led government agencies to prepare a detailed statement to resolve the issue of spreading of fake news, curbing obscene information and provide security to the user.
After creating the draft of intermediary guidelines rules in 2018, MietY had invited comments early in 2019, most of them said “ it overstep the aforesaid institution sparking concerns of free speech and privacy rights of individual”, “excessive delegation of powers” and “ burden of responsibility of identification of unlawful content from government/judiciary to intermediaries.
Amit Khare the secretary of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) calls the rules as “progressive institutional mechanisms” Immediately following the publication of the rules many social media platforms have advised creators of platform on the basis of new rules. Petitions have filed challenging the rules with respect to the digital new media.
A press conference was held by electronics and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Rajya Sabha member Prakash Javadekar calling the rules as a ‘soft-touch oversight’, it seems that many experts and think tank members have accepted these new rules. However digital media news platforms have filed petitions, stating that it challenges the right to privacy and freedom of speech. This could also lead to the erosion of safe harbor provisions provided by section 79 of the IT act. Which exempts the intermediaries from liabilities in certain cases.
During the press conference Mr. Prasad appreciating the value social media has provided in India told the press that, “Social media is welcome to do business in India…they have got good business and have also empowered ordinary Indians… But it is very important that crores of social media users be given a proper forum for resolution of their grievances in a time bound manner against the abuse and misuse of social media”.
MISINFORMATION SHARED ON SOCIAL MEDIA.
Under these intermediary guidelines an order will be passesd by the court, and any media platform have to disable such content within 36 hours. An order will be passed only for the purpose of detection, prevention, investigation, prosecution and punishment of an offence related to sovereignity and integrity of India, friendly relations with foreign state or public order punishable for imprisonment for a term not less than 5 years. Additionally no such order would be passes in cases of less intrusive means.
Another petition was filed by the Press Trust of India (PTI) challenging the constitutionality of the IT rules, 2021. India’s largest news agency, which provides National and International news to other media houses said, the central government was trying to regulate the digital news media. In the petition, PTI called it a vaguely worded ‘code of ethics’, saying that the government will tend to regulate digital portals with ‘news and current affairs content’ which were vaguely been explained. The PTI observed that the rules went beyond object and scope of the IT act. A bench of chief justice D.N patel and justice J.R Midha have issued a notice to MietY and MIB regarding the petition and the same will be heard on August 20 with other petitions filed by National digital News media like the wire, Alt news and Quint digital news media Ltd.
From above we could conclude that such rules are very much necessary, However application of these rules must be given another thought. The IT rules, 2021 gives emergency power to the central government to strip any digital media that contain explicit or any such content mentioned in the IT Rules, 2021. The kind of content mentioned in the IT Rules goes beyond the scope of the IT Act. Such rules create a atmosphere of surveillance and fear among the citizens. The rules enabled by the government tries to virtually dictate the social media content and surely violates the media freedom. A mechanism to stop the spreading of misinformation is very much in need, but the solution cannot be to control the media. In 2019 whatsapp started propagating its users “to be skeptical- when it comes to forwarded messages”. Methods like these are efficient and it warns the users about the messages/news they’re about to read. India is considered to have largest democracy, therefore it is the hands of lawmakers to provide a responsible set of rules, in order to prevent breach of privacy of citizens and to maintain a healthy freedom of speech.
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