The Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations in Geneva has responded to the concerns raised by the Special Procedures Branch of the Human Rights Council on the Information Technology Rules enacted by the Indian government.
In a move to empower ordinary users of social media and offer redressal to the victims of social media abuse, the Government of India had framed the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (‘new IT Rules’) and notified the same on 25 February 2021.
However, multiple concerns were raised by the Special Procedures Branch of the Human Rights Council including the potential implications for freedom of expression under the new IT Rules. To this, the Permanent Mission of India to the UN in Geneva has issued a statement clarifying the misplaced concerns of the council.
In a press release issued by the Ministry of Electronics & IT, the government stated, “The Permanent Mission of India would also like to inform that the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting undertook broad consultations in 2018 with various stakeholders, including individuals, civil society, industry association and organizations and invited public comments to prepare the draft Rules. Thereafter an inter-ministerial meeting had discussed in detail the comments received in detail and, accordingly, the Rules were finalized.”
The statement added, “The Permanent Mission of India would also like to highlight that India’s democratic credentials are well recognized. The right to freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed under the Indian Constitution. The independent judiciary and a robust media are part of India’s democratic structure.”
The press release says that “The enactment of new IT Rules had become necessary due to widespread concerns about issues relating to increased instances of abuse of social media and digital platforms, including inducement for recruitment of terrorists, circulation of obscene content, spread of disharmony, financial frauds, incitement of violence, public order etc.”
It also mentioned that the Supreme Court of India had also directed the Indian government to frame necessary guidelines to eliminate child pornography and related contents in online platforms and other applications. The Court had said that it was imperative to frame proper regime to find out the persons, institutions, and bodies who were the originators of such content messages. Due to this, it has become necessary to seek such information from the intermediaries.
The Indian Parliament had repeatedly asked the government of India to strengthen the legal framework and make the social media platforms accountable under the Indian laws. In sync with the demand, an inter-ministerial meeting had discussed in detail the comments received in detail and, finalized the Rules accordingly.
The new IT Rules were notified on February 25, and the significant intermediaries were given a three-month period to comply. The Rules came into effect from 26 May 2021.
Twitter resists complying with the new IT rules
While most social media platforms have complied with the new IT rules, Twitter continues to resist the new guidelines brought in by the government of India.
Owing to the growing tussle between the government of India and Twitter, the Indian officials of the microblogging site were questioned by the Parliamentary Panel on Information Technology on various issues.
However, Twitter officials responded to the panel saying that its own policies were more important than the laws of India. The committee, on the other hand, made it clear that the laws of the land are supreme, and the company will have to follow them.
Twitter has consistently refused to comply with the IT rules, and due to its failure to appoint statutory officers according to the rules, it has already lost the intermediary status in India. This means, it has lost the safe harbour given to social media companies, which shields them from any liability arising out of content published on their platforms.