Centre’s IT Rules bring answerability in digital ecosystem. But they also increase political control -Apar Gupta

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published Published on Feb 26, 2021   modified Modified on Feb 26, 2021

-The Indian Express

Apar Gupta writes: The substance of many of the requirements were never put to public consultation or deliberation by experts. This is particularly the case for the regulations for online news portals and video streaming platforms.

In the polarised environment that we now inhabit, there are few public agreements. One of these rare instances is an agreement that social media is broken. For many commentators, this is an area that needs urgent government intervention. But the form and shape of this intervention becomes again an issue of adversarial contest and controversy. This issue is fundamental to how today’s information ecology operates as large Silicon Valley platforms have become gatekeepers of social behaviours and the tremendous power they hold is anti-democratic.

The Government of India has been alive to these dangers and has over time sought to devise a core framework that governs social media. This framework known as the “intermediary liability” has been made legally through Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, that has been supplemented by operational rules, and the Supreme Court judgment in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India. All this legalese essentially provides large technology companies immunity for the content that is transmitted and stored by them. In return for this immunity, they have to comply with a set of conditions that is set by the government through a rule-making power. On Thursday, the Government of India announced drastic changes to it through the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

These changes, as announced in a joint press conference by the Minister for Information Technology and the Minister for Information and Broadcasting, contain three big highlights. First, fresh obligations for social media companies and platforms. Many of these obligations have been the topic of discussion since December 2018 when The Indian Express first broke the news about a “confidential” meeting in which the proposed amendments were mooted. The substance of many of these proposals has been retained and hurt both user privacy and free expression online.

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The Indian Express, 26 February, 2021, https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/it-act-social-media-govt-control-digital-ecosystem-7204972/

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