Union Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology and Union Minister of State for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Rajeev Chandrasekhar said that the new amendments to the Information Technology (IT) rules ensure that these platforms can’t suspend citizens’ account without following a systematic process.
During a discussion about the rules at Twitter Space on October 29, the minister stated that the intermediaries cannot suspend or ban anyone without sending a notice and giving an account-holder the opportunity to explain their position. Chandrasekhar said: “The process of natural justice, which is at the core of the system in India, has to be followed by every platform.”
He, however, clarified that this doesn’t mean that social media companies cannot de-platform an individual. “The future process will be far from the arbitrary process today and far from the process that is non-transparent. Therefore, at the end of the procedure if you don’t like it you can go and appeal that in the Grievance Appellate Committee (GAC) and if you don’t like what the GAC does then you can also appeal that in the courts,” the minister stated.
The new IT rules impose a legal obligation on social media companies to make all efforts to prevent prohibited content and misinformation, the government said on Saturday, making it clear that platforms operating in India will have to abide by local laws and the Constitutional rights of Indian users. The rules are in response to complaints about intermediaries’ actions or inaction in responding to user complaints about objectionable content or suspending their accounts.
‘NO RANDOM CANCELLATION’
MoS Chandrasekhar said the cancellation of the accounts won’t happen randomly because Article 14, Article 19 and Article 21 are now part of the IT rules.
#Exclusive: "Everything that the govt of India does is to deliver open, safe, trusted and an accountable internet to all digital naagriks (citizens)": Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar (@Rajeev_GoI) speaks to News18's @maryashakil #OnlineSafety #ITRules #Internet #India pic.twitter.com/mdMCf9VYZX— News18 (@CNNnews18) October 29, 2022
Article 14 states: “Equality before law the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.”
Article 19 deals with the protection of certain rights of the Indian citizens regarding freedom of speech and others like the right to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.
Additionally, Article 21 states: “Protection of life and personal liberty No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”
According to the Union Minister: “In the new rules, we have put down that no citizens’ rights — Articles 14, 19 and 21 — can be messed around by any platform.”
He said that the platform has to make sure that if a consumer is de-platformed, there are sufficient reasons behind such a move, providing evidence that they are not discriminating or suppressing someone’s right to free speech and not violating Articles 14, 19 and 21. “Now, it will be extremely difficult for the platforms to arbitrarily de-platform anyone,” the minister stated.
While explaining the need for the GAC, he said: “One of the concerns and recurring complaints from those who use these platforms were that they have a problem, but they didn’t know who to reach.” He said that it was quite “bizarre” that the platforms which deal with millions of people were not making any effort to be accountable to their consumers.
Chandrasekhar said the government asked these companies to appoint their Grievances officers as part of the framework so that the users can send their concerns to the respective person. “Over the past 14 months, a lot of these platforms just appointed naam ke vaste somebody to occupy the position as a Grievances officer,” he said, adding that either the person became just a “letter box” or they appointed someone who was “not interested” in addressing the grievances or in the third case the issue was settled in an “unsatisfactory manner”.
Digital Nagriks / citizens grievances will now never go unaddressed under amended #ITrules - a Grievance Appellete committee formed @PMOIndia #IndiaTechade #DigitalIndia #NewIndia pic.twitter.com/5NLbAFZnCu— Rajeev Chandrasekhar 🇮🇳 (@Rajeev_GoI) October 29, 2022
“So the GAC came in as a concept, as an appellate jurisdiction. If you are a user and you are unsatisfied by the response you are getting from the platform, you have a way of appealing to the GAC,” the minister added.
He also called the GAC “a digital signboard” on the internet. Regarding how this committee will function, Chandrasekhar stated that if the appeals received are related to the IT sector and MeitY, the GAC will deal with it and if the appeals are about intellectual property or patients or e-commerce, it will redirect it to the area concerned. “I have promised that over the next 15 days we will lay out the architecture, design and the basic terms of reference of GAC and will discuss with the industry, get them on board and then notify,” MoS Chandrasekhar noted.
New amended IT rules are next step to realizing our govts duty to #DigitalNagriks of Open, Safe&Trusted, Accountable Internet Also marks a new partnership btwn Govt and Intermediaries in making n keeping our Internet safe & trusted for all Indians.#IndiaTechade #OSTA pic.twitter.com/COQhGOHv5D
— Rajeev Chandrasekhar 🇮🇳 (@Rajeev_GoI) October 28, 2022
During the discussion, the minister responded to a query regarding the possibility of a new IT Act. “The current rules are stepping stones to two new legislations that are going to be part of the overall framework. One is the Digital Data Protection bill, which will be up for consultation very soon. The other one is Digital India Act, which will supersede the IT Act 2000—a 22-year-old law and in internet terms, it is a 2,000-year-old-law—so we need a modern law for India Techade and we are working to draft it,” said Chandrasekhar.
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