Social Media Law Insider

Sakina Tashrifwala 

Published on: October 29, 2022 at 08:26 IST

The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2022 (2022 Rules) were published by the Central Government on Friday.

According to the amendment, the Centre should establish a Grievance Appellate Committee to hear appeals against decisions made by Grievance Officers of social media intermediaries.

On 06.07.2022, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) published the draught amendment rules to amend the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2021.

The notification was made public in order to solicit feedback from stakeholders.

MeitY proposed the amendment, citing “certain flaws and gaps in the current rule in relation to Big Tech Platforms.”

The Centre had envisaged the establishment of an appellate body, namely the Grievance Appellate Committee, in the draught Rules aimed at ensuring a ‘Open, Safe, Trusted, and Accountable Internet for all Indian Users and Digital Nagriks.’ It allows users to file an appeal with the Committee against the decision of the social media intermediaries.

The incorporation of the Grievance Appellate Committee, which is run by bureaucrats, has drawn criticism from several quarters because it gives the government the power to censor and thus control users’ online speech.

Even after receiving stakeholder feedback, it appears that the majority of the proposed amendments remain in the 2022 Rules. However, there has been little change to the provision relating to the Grievance Appellate Committee (GAC).

Instead of just one, the Central Government can now establish multiple GACs through notification. The GACs must be established within three months, according to the 2022 Rules.

The GAC would be made up of the following members:

“Each Grievance Appellate Committee shall be composed of a chairperson and two full-time members appointed by the Central Government, one of whom shall be an ex-officio member and the other two shall be independent members.”

If social media intermediaries violate the intermediary guidelines, users can file a complaint with the intermediaries’ Grievance Officer.

Users can now appeal to the GAC the decision of the Grievance Officer of the social media intermediaries on whether or not to remove the relevant content. Users are required to file an appeal within 30 days of receiving the Grievance Officer’s decision.

The GAC is expected to rule on the appeal within 30 days. The GAC has the authority to seek expert assistance in deciding the appeal.

The social media intermediary must comply with the GAC’s order and post a report to that effect on its website. The GAC’s online mode of dispute resolution is also proposed in the 2022 Rules.

Aside from the establishment of GAC, the 2022 Rules require intermediaries to prominently publish the rules and regulations, privacy policy, and user agreement in English or any language specified in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution on their website, mobile-based application, or both, as the case may be.

They must take appropriate steps to inform their users about the rules and regulations, privacy policies, and user agreements.

Intermediaries are also required to take all reasonable steps to ensure that their services are accessible to users, as well as to meet reasonable expectations of due diligence, privacy, and transparency.

The 2022 Rules require all intermediaries to respect all rights granted to citizens under Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Indian Constitution. The intermediaries must acknowledge the complaint within 24 hours and resolve it within 15 days.

However, complaints in the form of a request for the removal of an information or communication link relating to obscene, pornographic content; content harmful to children; misleading content; content impersonating another person; content threatening the unity, integrity, or security of India, and so on, shall be resolved expeditiously and within 24 hours of reporting.

The Rules also state that intermediaries can create appropriate safeguards to prevent user misuse.

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