The government’s proposal to set-up a grievance panel that will have power to override decisions of social media companies and other internet firms is aimed at addressing some infirmities and gaps arising out of big technology companies, an official statement said on Monday.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity) in a press note attached with reloaded draft notification to amend the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, said that it will hold public consultation in mid-June on the proposal. It has also extended time for public comments on the draft notification to amend the IT Rules, 2021, by 30 days from June 6 onward.
The draft notice dated June 1 had mentioned June 22 as the last date for public comments. The draft was removed by Meity on June 2 and has been again uploaded on its website. Meity said that it has notified IT Rules, 2021 on February 25, 2021 with goals to ensure an open, safe, trusted and accountable Internet for all Indian internet users and “Digital Nagriks”. Under the rules, significant social media intermediaries those with over 50 lakh users are required to appoint a grievance officer, a nodal officer and a chief compliance officer. These personnel have to be residents in India.
The social media firms covered under the rules are also classified as “Big Tech” companies as they dominate the segments in which they operate. Meity said that the notified rules have succeeded in creating a new sense of accountability amongst Intermediaries to their users especially within Big Tech platforms. “However, as the digital eco-system and connected Internet users in India expand, so do the challenges and problems faced by them, as well as some of the infirmities and gaps that exist in the current rule vis-a-vis Big Tech platform. Therefore, New amendments have been proposed to the IT Rules 2021, to address these challenges and gaps,” the statement said.
The Centre in the draft amendment has proposed to set up a grievance appellate committee to look into appeals filed by individuals against decisions of grievance officers of social media platforms. Besides, the panel has to dispose of the appeals within 30 days of receiving them and its decision will be binding on the intermediaries or the large social media companies concerned, according to a notification to amend the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.
The proposed move assumes significance against the backdrop of instances of accounts, including that of celebrities, being blocked by social media platforms such as Twitter for alleged violation of respective community guidelines. The central government shall constitute one or more Grievance Appellate Committees, which shall consist of a Chairperson and such other Members, as the central government may, by notification in the official gazette, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity) said in the draft notification.
The aggrieved person can appeal against the decision of the grievance officer concerned before the committee within 30 days of receipt of the order. The Grievance Appellate Committee shall deal with such appeal expeditiously and shall make an endeavour to dispose of the appeal finally within 30 calendar days from the date of receipt of the appeal. Every order passed by the Grievance Appellate Committee shall be complied with by the concerned intermediary, the draft notification said.
The rules for social media companies came into effect from May 26, 2021. It mandated large social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to enable identification of the ‘first originator’ of the information that undermines the sovereignty of India, the security of the state, or public order.