The government has sought public comments on the proposed amendments to the Information Technology (IT) Act that seek to make it mandatory for platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter to trace “originator” of “unlawful” information, while also removing such content within 24 hours after being notified.
It pointed out that a number of lynching incidents were reported in 2018 mostly due to fake news being circulated through Whatsapp and other social media sites.
As per the draft ‘The Information Technology [Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules] 2018’ released on Monday, the intermediary after being notified by the appropriate authority should remove or disable access to unlawful content within 24 hours in the “interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence, on its computer resource without vitiating the evidence in any manner…”
- Provide info sought by any govt. agency within 72 hours
- Enable tracing the originator of information on the platform
- Disable access to unlawful acts within 24 hours of being notified
- Deploy automated tools to identify and disable access to unlawful content
- Report cyber security incidents with the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team
The intermediary is also expected to preserve such information and associated records for at least 180 days for investigation purposes as against 90 days now.
Following fears of “surveillance and censorship” with the proposed norms, the government clarified that it does not regulate content appearing on social network platforms.
Pointing that a number of lynching incidents were reported in 2018 mostly due to fake news being circulated through WhatsApp and other social media sites, the government said social media has brought new challenges for the law enforcement agencies, including inducement for recruitment of terrorists, circulation of obscene content, spread of disharmony and incitement to violence.
It said the Minister for Electronics and IT Ravi Shankar Prasad, while responding to a calling attention motion on “Misuse of social media platforms and spreading of fake news” in Parliament, had conveyed the resolve of the government to strengthen the legal framework and make the social media platforms accountable under law.
Subsequently, the IT Ministry prepared the draft rules to replace the ones notified in 2011. “Presently, consultation process is under way…it was initiated with inter-ministerial consultations and thereafter with other stakeholders, including major social media platforms and messaging services platforms like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo, WhatsApp and other associations like IAMAI, COAI and ISPAI representing intermediaries.”
MeitY has sought comments from stakeholders by January 15, 2019.
The proposed rules state that intermediaries should within 72 hours, provide information or assistance asked for by any government agency “or assistance concerning security of the State or cyber security; or investigation or detection or prosecution or prevention of offence(s); protective or cyber security and matters connected with or incidental thereto.”
This draft comes close on the heels of a recent Supreme Court order that gave a green signal to the government to frame guidelines or a standard operating procedure (SOP) to deal with the publication and proliferation of sexually abusive online content like child pornography, rape and gang rape videos and objectionable material through social media intermediaries like Google, YouTube, Facebook, and WhatsApp.
The Centre’s draft SOP include setting up of proactive monitoring tools for auto deletion of unlawful content, deployment of trusted flaggers for identifying and deletion of unlawful content, setting up of a 24/7 mechanism for requisitions of law enforcement agencies, and appointment of India-based contact officers.