IT Rules: The government publishes FAQs and claims that the rules are in line with the right to freedom of speech and expression.

The administration stated on Monday that the new IT laws are consistent with the Constitution’s protection of freedom of speech and expression and do not impose any additional requirements on users.
The IT ministry said in a set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the intermediary guidelines that the rules have a clear focus on protecting individuals’ online privacy, and that safeguards are in place to ensure that users’ privacy is not violated, even when it comes to identifying the first originator of messages.

Overall, the FAQs aim to answer questions that Internet and social media users may have regarding the new regulations’ scope, important changes from previous provisions, how the rules improve women’s and children’s safety, and the due diligence that must be performed by an intermediary, among other things.

The ministry said that the rules do not impinge on the right to free speech and expression in response to one of the inquiries.

“The new IT rules, which will take effect in 2021, have been drafted in accordance with these rights.” The guidelines do not impose any additional requirements on users and do not include any fines,” it stated.

“Social media intermediary,” according to the government, is defined as an intermediary that “mainly or only” promotes online interaction between two or more users and allows them to “produce, upload, share, disseminate, alter, or access information using its services.”

According to the ministry’s 20-page document, any intermediary whose primary purpose is to enable commercial or business-oriented transactions, provide access to Internet or search-engine services, e-mail service, or online storage service, among other things, will not qualify as a social media intermediary.

It noted that in order to qualify as a social media middleman, the intermediary’s primary or single objective should be to enable online interactions.

“As a result, an entity that serves a primary purpose other than facilitating online interactions may not be considered a social media intermediary,” it said.

The scope of supporting online interactions would include “socialisation/social networking, including the capacity of users to improve their reach and following inside the platform via specialised features like follow/subscribe, etc.”

Offering the option to engage with unknown persons or users, as well as the ability to enable virality of material through sharing facilitation, would be considered enabling online contact, according to the ministry.

Separately, the ministry will produce a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for IT rules and intermediary regulations, which will include information on the competent agencies with the capacity to send takedown notices to platforms.

The IT Rules, 2021, are intended to assist ordinary users who utilise any intermediary platform, it said, adding that the rules promote netizen safety and maintain platform accountability through a comprehensive grievance resolution process.

“By establishing these appropriate methods and remedies, the guidelines aim to ensure that social media platforms remain a secure space for all users, free of cyber threats, harassment, and unlawful content,” the statement added.

The chief compliance officer and the nodal contact person cannot be the same person, although the nodal contact person and the resident grievance officer can be the same person, according to IT guidelines.

“However, it is desirable that SSMI (Significant Social Media Intermediary) chooses different personnel for the two roles, keeping in mind the functional requirements of the nodal contact person and the resident grievance officer,” it stated.

A parent SSMI has the authority to nominate common officers for all of its goods and services. However, the contact information for these officers must be properly displayed on each of those product and service platforms.

In response to a question about whether detecting the message’s initial originator could jeopardise end-to-end encryption, the ministry stated that the rule’s goal is to get the registration details of the message’s first Indian originator, not to break or weaken the encryption.

A popular detection technique is based on the unencrypted message’s “hash value,” where identical messages will result in a common hash regardless of the encryption utilised by the messaging platform.

“The concerned SSMI must decide how this hash will be created or stored, and SSMI are free to come up with different technological solutions to implement this requirement,” it stated.

It’s worth noting that India implemented new IT intermediary rules earlier this year, with the goal of increasing accountability for large tech corporations like Twitter and Facebook.

The guidelines mandate that social media platforms erase any content detected by authorities within 36 hours and establish a comprehensive complaint redress system with a local officer. Within 24 hours of receiving a complaint, social media sites must remove material depicting nudity or manipulated photographs.

Significant social media firms, defined as those with more than 50 lakh members, must also publish a monthly compliance report detailing complaints received and actions taken, as well as details of proactively removed content.

“The Internet, with all of its excellent qualities, represents the ability to provide good governance and the opportunity for the last individual in a democracy to communicate with the government.”

“…but it also represents significant growth in things we refer to as user harm and criminality, and so policymaking has to address, grow the good, and address the bad in a transparent and effective manner,” said Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Minister of State for Electronics and IT, in announcing the FAQs.

As the nature of “good and bad” in cyberspace evolves, so does the nature of “good and bad” in cyberspace. According to him, the government’s policymaking is geared at ensuring that users’ interests are protected through increased platform responsibility.

“The Internet must always be open… openness means it is free of not only state and government influence, but also dominating big tech power, and one way to normalise that is to build a culture of rules-based accountability to their users among larger platforms,” he said.

He also stated that the Internet’s biggest stakeholders are the millions of Indians who use it, with approximately 80 crore people online.

“We applaud the government’s efforts to make the 2021 IT standards more clear. A Meta representative remarked, “We look forward to studying the FAQs.” Facebook has lately changed its name to Meta.

When contacted, Google stated that the FAQs paper is currently being reviewed.