New IT rules: Social media majors will now have to follow these strict guidelines

The government of India has released The Information Technology (Guidelines For Intermediaries And Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, to be followed by the social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter.

According to Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union IT Minister, who spoke to media persons, the rules’ focus is to empower ordinary users of social media for whom fake news and financial fraud are one of the huge challenges.

The idea is to have major social media platforms develop a redressal mechanism with “soft touch” oversight from the government, he added.

The key rules include the following.

  1. An intermediary should inform the users not to host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, store, update or share any information that is false, misleading, and defamatory in nature.
  2. Large social media companies are also now mandated to inform users at least once every year in non-compliance with rules and regulations. They now have the right to terminate the users’ access or usage rights to the computer resource immediately or remove it in case of non-compliance.
  3. The appointment of a Chief Compliance Officer is mandatory, and he/she will be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and rules. This appointment should be made within three months of the implementation of the rules.
  4. A nodal person of contact should be appointed for 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies and officers to ensure compliance.
  5. Intermediary on receiving an order by a court or being notified by a government agency shall not host, store or publish info prohibited by any law about interests of the sovereignty and India’s integrity.
  6. An intermediary collects information from a user for registration; it shall retain that information for a period of 180 days after cancellation or withdrawal of registration.
  7. The intermediary shall provide info under its control or possession within 72 hours of receipt of a lawful order for prevention, detection, investigation of offences.
  8. Social media majors should now display the grievance officer’s contact details on its application, web, or mobile.
  9. Social media majors will now have to disclose the first originator of the message or content that incited violence or affected the country’s integrity or sovereignty.

But…

One of the most concerning is enabling the identification of the originator.

The rules have said that significant social media intermediaries must identify the first originator of the information when required by judicial order. This is concerning since it would mean breaking the end-to-end encryption offered by services like WhatsApp and Signal.

The think tank Internet Freedom Foundation has pointed out that the rules have introduced the requirement of traceability of the originator of the information, which again breaks end-to-end encryption. Many platforms (Whatsapp, Signal, etc.) retain minimal user data and use E2E encryption to provide users privacy.

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