Govt says no new provision on blocking of content

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New Delhi: The government has refuted reports that new provision on blocking of contents have been added in the new stringent guidelines for social media platforms along with code of ethics for over-the-top (OTT) platforms and digital media.

“Certain misgivings are being raised regarding Rule 16 under Part III of the rules which mention that in a case of emergency nature, interim blocking directions may be issued by the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting,” a PIB release said.

It is hereby clarified that this is not a new provision. For the past eleven years, since 2009, this provision has been exercised by the Secretary, Ministry of Electronics and IT under the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009, the release said.

Under the rules issued on 25th February, 2021, this provision has only been replaced with Secretary, Ministry of I&B because Part III of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 would be administered by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting.

It is reiterated – no change in provision has been made nor has any new provision been added on blocking of content under Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, an official release said.

Amidst growing concerns around lack of transparency, accountability and rights of users related to digital media the Indian Government framed a new set of laws as intermediary guidelines and digital media ethics code.

While finalizing these Rules, both the Ministries of Electronics and Information Technology and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting undertook elaborate consultations among themselves in order to have a harmonious, soft-touch oversight mechanism in relation to social media platform as well as digital media and OTT platforms etc.

Part- II of these Rules shall be administered by Ministry of Electronics and IT, while Part-III relating to Code of Ethics and procedure and safeguards in relation to digital media shall be administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

The Union Government on Thursday came up with new stringent guidelines for social media platforms along with code of ethics for over-the-top (OTT) platforms and digital media.

The government will soon notify a list of significant social media intermediaries soon. The platforms with a “significant” number of users will be classified as significant social media intermediaries. A benchmark number would be set for the classification.

The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 mandate that the intermediaries, including social media intermediaries must establish a grievance redressal mechanism for receiving resolving complaints from the users or victims.

Intermediaries will have to appoint a Grievance Officer to deal with such complaints and share the name and contact details of such officer. Grievance Officer shall acknowledge the complaint within twenty-four hours and resolve it within fifteen days from its receipt, said an official statement.

As per the new norms “an intermediary upon receiving actual knowledge in the form of an order by a court or being notified by the appropriate government should not host or publish any information which is prohibited under any law in relation to the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, public order, friendly relations with foreign countries etc.”

Further, significant social media intermediaries providing services primarily in the nature of messaging shall enable identification of the originator of the information that is required only offences related to sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, or public order or of incitement to an offence relating to rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse.

The norm would be applicable to offences under which an offender would be punishable with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years.

Intermediary shall not be required to disclose the contents of any message or any other information to the first originator, said the statement.

Further, the significant platforms will have to appoint a Chief Compliance Officer, a Nodal Contact Person, a Resident Grievance Officer.

The platforms would also have to publish a monthly compliance report mentioning the details of complaints received and action taken on the complaints as well as details of contents removed proactively by the significant social media intermediary.

In cases where significant social media intermediaries remove or disable access to any information on their own accord, then a prior intimation for the same shall be communicated to the user who has shared that information with a notice explaining the grounds and reasons for such action.

Users must be provided an adequate and reasonable opportunity to dispute the action taken by the intermediary, as per the new norms.

The rules will come in effect from the date of their publication in the gazette, except for the additional due diligence for significant social media intermediaries, which shall come in effect 3 months after publication of these Rules.

Further, on the online news, OTT platforms and digital media platforms, the government has set up three-level grievance redressal mechanism has been under the rules with different levels of self-regulation. The levels are self-regulation by the publishers, self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the publishers, oversight mechanism self-classification of content.

A per the Code of Ethics, the publisher shall appoint a Grievance Redressal Officer based in India who shall be responsible for the redressal of grievances received by it.

The officer shall take decision on every grievance received by it within 15 days.

There may be one or more self-regulatory bodies of publishers. Such a body shall be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, a High Court or independent eminent person and have not more than six members. Such a body will have to register with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

This body will oversee the adherence by the publisher to the Code of Ethics and address grievances that have not be been resolved by the publisher within 15 days.

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