IT Rules 2021: The disagreement between India and the Social Media Giants

IT Rules 2021: The disagreement between India and the Social Media Giants

Indeed, social media platforms and OTT platforms are much more than a mode of entertainment and interaction. These platforms have created a new world with the deep involvement of its users and its creators. Along with it has built an effective business platform and empowering the citizens. On 25th February, the government has announced its plan to decree greater inaccuracy over social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and also bring digital media and streaming platforms into a stricter regulatory net. In a press conference on the same day, Ravi Shankar Prasad, IT minister, said that the rules would come into effect the day they are notified for most applicable entities. But an extra three-month time would be given to ‘significant social media intermediaries’, a separate category of companies for which there is a greater compliance burden, he added.

The deadline has ended on 25th May. And none of the platforms including Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter has conformed with the regulations yet, except Indian social media firm Koo. Consequently, rumours and memes arise as the social media giants face a probable ban in India if they do not fulfil the Centre's new intermediary guidelines. Sideways with the hashtags #TwitterBan and #FacebookBan, #Orkut has also started leading Twitter trends. Users were sharing, memes and jokes and remembering their experience on the platform.

However, the fact is that neither the government nor the rules have stated any ban. Moreover, specialists confirm the rules couldn’t lead to a ban. Non-compliance with the rules just implies that social media intermediaries and internet firms won’t get the advantage of the safe harbour protections mentioned in Section 79 of India’s Information Technology (IT) Act. It is to defend these firms from being indicted for posts, comments and text messages that users send over their platforms. So, these intermediaries would be active without safe harbour protections for the time being.

Requisite of the new IT rules

A basic arrangement enables the government to request companies to track the originator from posts, tweets, and messages within the country. Under the rules, the government can legally ask these companies to identify the first person who shared any offensive post in India. It also demands intermediaries to employ Indian citizens in compliance roles, invent automated processes for inscribing pornography, inaugurate mechanisms to respond to complaints, and eliminate offending content within 36 hours of encountering a legal order.

Platforms complied with the rules

Indigenous social networking service, Koo has declared its compliance on 22 May. MyGov, the Centre’s citizen engagement platform, has also joined the confirmation. Facebook has stated to comply with these rules very soon. However, WhatsApp has prosecuted the government, contending that the guidelines question the Supreme Court’s 2017 Right to Privacy ruling.

Reason behind the disagreement with the traceability rule

The option of end-to-end encryption (E2EE) of messaging apps like WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram protects the texts of users from interlopers. The E2EE technology doesn’t allow anyone except the sender and receiver of a text to access it. Nevertheless, the platforms say the new rules demand them to digitally fingerprint all messages on their platforms, and keep records of them, to be prepared for legal requests. This is contrary to the basics of E2EE technology and would demand platforms to develop backdoors into their code, which can ultimately be broken by cybercriminals.

IT rules for more than the privacy

According to experts, the approval of the Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill would have liberated the government from legal cases and counterattack. Once the PDP will become a law, it will clarify the rules as well as facilitate legislation of traceability norms. A joint parliamentary committee previous year projected the Bill should emphasise digitization and localization of data. By the end of this year, a final draft of the Bill is expected, although experts predict the modified draft too could confront pushback from social media companies.

Hence, social media and OTT platforms are expected to request the centre for a postponement of the deadline to comply with the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. As Facebook said it needs some time to discourse issues that demand more engagement with the government. It would be remarkable to follow the related updates. As a consequence, it would be affecting people personally as well as professionally.