When the world shut down, snatching away our physical spaces of leisure and entertainment, Social Media became the only hub to cope up with the gloom all around. Apart from being the source of information, social media was also a platform to keep in touch with other people since we couldn’t meet physically. Recently, the feud that fired up between the Government of India and the social media intermediaries – Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – has put many people in a state of worry. Here’s why:
In February, the government released the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021. The government gave three months for the social media platform to comply with the new guidelines. May 26 marked the deadline for these tech giants to fulfil the requirements mentioned in the latest IT Rules 2021. People are worried that these apps might stop working or the government will impose a ban on these apps from the day forth the deadline. There is no doubt that their concern is genuine; If you do not comply with the state’s rules, a ban is the only fate that comes to mind. However, it’s not that simple.
To understand the entire situation, lets first discuss what the new IT rules 2021 are demanding:
- The Social Media Companies need to appoint a chief compliance officer in India who will answer the government. For example, if the government requires data of a Facebook user pertaining to a legal matter, the compliance officer will respond to the government with the data.
- The companies will have to appoint a nodal officer responsible for coordinating with the law enforcement agencies and the government 24×7 if there arises such a need.
- The tech giants must appoint a grievance redressal officer whose responsibility will be coordinating with the users on any grievance that they might come with and deal with them.
- Lastly, companies need to ensure that they can trace the original sender of a message.
There are other technology-related demands, but these are the main clauses of the new IT Rules 2021. As of now, Netflix and Koo, the Indian version of the microblogging site Twitter, has complied with the new guidelines. Other companies are yet to adhere to the new rules. As for the last clause is concerned, WhatsApp on May 26 moved the Delhi High Court against the sender’s traceability. According to WhatsApp, this clause is against the Right to Privacy and demanded the court to resolve the issue. Facebook, which owns WhatsApp and Instagram, stated, “We aim to comply with the provisions of the new IT Rules and continue to discuss a few of the issues which require more engagement with the government of India.”
Since there is no compliance to be seen as such, the question arises, Will these apps be banned? No.
According to the new rules, there is a statement, though a bit vague, regarding situations where there is no compliance. It says:
“Where an intermediary fails to observe these rules, the provisions of sub-section (1) of section 79 of the Act shall not apply to such intermediary, and the intermediary shall be liable for punishment under any law for the time being in force including the provisions of the Act and the Indian Penal Code.”
The sub-section (1) of Section 79 of the IT Act gives the social media companies protection by making these companies “intermediaries”. This means that these companies are not responsible for the user content. It implies that if the social media giants do not comply with the new IT Rules 2021, the companies will have to forfeit the protection that these “intermediaries” get under the IT Act. The government can drag these companies into court, prosecute them using the applicable laws.
Therefore, the companies will continue to work until the government doesn’t move the court against them. In the case that the government do, there is less probability that the service will be blocked. Other measures, however, might be taken against them.
The Information Technology Code of Ethics might not take away your application, but your data may likely become less private and more vulnerable to surveillance.