Explained: Amendments proposed to IT Rules 2021, and what they mean

Among the key changes, government-appointed appeal panels will have the powers to review and veto content-moderation decisions taken by social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube

The draft of amendments is up for consultation for 30 days. Pic: iStock

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has published a fresh draft of amendments to the Information Technology Rules, 2021. These proposes to create government-appointed appeal committees that will be have the powers to review and veto content-moderation decisions taken by social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

On June 2, the Centre proposed amendments to The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. But, a day later, it withdrew the notification for some reason. The new draft was published a week ago and is up for public consultation for 30 days.

What are the amendments?

“The Central government shall constitute one or more grievance appellate committees, which shall consist of a chairperson and such other members,” MeitY said in the draft. It means that if a user is not satisfied with the content moderation decision taken by a company’s grievance officer, he or she can appeal against that decision before the proposed government-appointed appeals committee. Currently, the only recourse a user has against companies’ content decisions is to approach the courts.

Also read: HC stays provisions of IT rules on ‘Code Of Ethics’ by digital media

The draft further says that the social media firm has to comply with the order passed by the grievance appellate committee.

The new proposal also places additional responsibilities on grievance officers appointed by social media companies. It says that if a user complains about content which is “patently false”, infringes copyright, and threatens the integrity of India, among other things, a grievance officer will have to address it within 72 hours. Under current rules, grievance officers have 15 days to act on and dispose of users’ complaints.

As per the IT Rules, 2021, that came into effect last year, social media companies are mandated to appoint India-based resident grievance officers, who are intermediaries responsible for overseeing the complaints from the people who use their services.

The proposed amendments also add that intermediaries should take all reasonable measures to ensure their services are accessible to all users. This comes with a reasonable expectation of due diligence, privacy, and transparency.

Ministry’s statement

In a press release, the ministry said the proposed amendments will ensure that “Constitutional rights of Indian citizens are not contravened by any big tech platform by ensuring new accountability standards”. The new draft, it said, will ensure “actual enforcement of requirements in IT Rules, 2021 in letter and spirit”.

Also read: Govt withdraws draft notification to set up panel for social media takedowns

“The IT Rules, 2021, provide for a robust grievance redressal mechanism. However, there have been many instances that grievance officers of intermediaries either do not address the grievances satisfactorily and/or fairly. In such a scenario, the need for an appellate forum has been proposed to protect the rights and interests of users,” the ministry press release.

The proposal to set up government-appointed committees has triggered concerns about the government control over social media content decisions.