India government issues rules to regulate social media, streaming services, digital news
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India government issues rules to regulate social media, streaming services, digital news

The government of India issued new rules on Thursday regulating publishers of digital content such as social media intermediaries, OTT (Over-the-top) platforms, and online news and current affairs websites. The rules, known as the Information Technology (Guidelines For Intermediaries And Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, have been drafted under the Information Technology Act, 2000.

Stating the background behind notifying these rules, the government said that the digital technology movement is extensively proliferating to empower common citizens to access information and freely share their views on social media platforms. It further stated:

The Government acknowledges and respects the right of every Indian to criticize and disagree as an essential element of democracy … the Government welcomes social media companies to operate in India, do business and also earn profits. However, they will have to be accountable to the Constitution and laws of India.

The rules have been framed through joint consultations by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB). They prescribe a Code of Ethics and a three-tier mechanism for content regulation. The government also cited issues such as fake news, hate speech, cyber crimes, revenge porn, corporate rivalry etc. as necessitating transparency and regulation.

The rules require publishers of digital news to “observe Norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act thereby providing a level playing field between the offline (Print, TV) and digital media.” They further require extensive due diligence by social media intermediaries including publishing relevant rules and regulations, privacy policy, and user agreement as well as periodically informing users of the same or any change in the same at least once a year. Intermediaries are also mandated to provide information under their control or possession within 72 hours which a Government agency is lawfully authorized to access for investigations or cybersecurity.

Bigger social media intermediaries are required to enable the identification of the “first originator” of information for purposes related to “sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, or public order, or of incitement to an offense relating to the above or in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material.” All social media intermediaries are prohibited from hosting, storing, or publishing unlawful information in relation to similar purposes.