The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology(MeitY) is looking to make changes to certain sections of the Information Technology (IT) Act to make social media intermediaries, such as Google,Facebook and Twitter, and OTT platforms, including Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Video, more accountable for the content shared through their platforms.
IT , Law and Justice minister Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told the Rajya Sabha that the government was working to bring new rules to make social media intermediaries more responsive to the government’s directions as well as its law enforcement agencies. He further said, social media companies will be required to acknowledge takedown requests of unlawful, misinformation and violent content within 24 hours and deliver a complete redressal within 15 days. In sensitive cases such as those surrounding explicit sexual content, firms will be required to take down the content within 24 hours.
One of the major changes being looked at is to amend Section 79 of the IT Act to make online companies “proactively trace, detect and prevent” unlawful content from being shared on their platforms. Under the IT Act, the definition of an intermediary is very broad and covers nearly all platforms which upload, manage, or allow sharing of content. We may at a later stage also look at an umbrella body like TRAI to oversee all these platforms and manage other functions.
Prasad said today social media firms will have to disclose the originator of objectionable content. “We don’t want to know the content, but firms need to be able to tell who was the first person who began spreading misinformation or other objectionable content,” he said. WhatsApp has previously said that it can’t comply with such traceability requests without compromising end-to-end encryption security for every user.
Section 79 of the IT Act protects social media intermediaries by giving them immunity from legal prosecution for any content posted on their platforms. However, the protection provided fails if the government notifies the intermediary that if “any information, data or communication link residing in or connected to a computer resource controlled by the intermediary is being used to commit the unlawful act and the intermediary fails to expeditiously remove or disable access to that material”.
“India is the world’s largest open Internet society and 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,” he said.