Centre starts talks for new IT law, looks at stalking to social media

Centre starts talks for new IT law, looks at stalking to social media

India News

MONTHS AFTER its new rules for social media intermediaries under the IT Act of 2000 triggered a faceoff with tech giants Facebook and Twitter, the Centre has started a fresh round of consultations for a completely new IT law “to deal with present and future circumstances”, The Indian Express has learnt.

In February, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) had released stringent rules under the existing IT Act for social media intermediaries, which was challenged by multiple stakeholders in different high courts. Both the Madras and the Bombay High Courts have stayed operation of key parts of the rules. The Bombay High Court observed that the new rules are “manifestly unreasonable and go beyond the IT Act, its aims and provisions”.

Senior government officials told The Indian Express that the new law, when it is put in place, “will subsume all these rules”, including the setting up of a grievances redressal and compliance mechanism, and officers. “Our goal is to ensure compliance. If there can be compliance without litigation, why not do that?” a senior official said.

However, the official said, there may be some tweaks to remove any criminal liability on the grievance and compliance officers appointed by intermediaries.

The new Act is also likely to contain provisions that cover “newer aspects of technology”, such as blockchain, bitcoin and dark net, among others.

“The old IT Act of 2000 was drawn up mainly keeping in mind prevention of simple fraud, blocking of websites and illegal content of different kinds that existed then. A lot has changed. It would not make sense to amend the old Act. We would rather introduce a new law to deal with present and future circumstances that may arise,” an official said.

The new law, sources said, will define various forms of online sexual harassment, such as stalking, bullying, morphing of photos, and other methods, while also laying out clear guidelines on punishment for these offences, the officials said.

“Right now, there is no legal definition of what consists of online bullying, or stalking, or the exact penal provision for other forms of sexual harassment such as making unwanted comments, morphing photos, releasing or posting private photos without someone’s consent. The intermediaries are doing it, but it is on a case-to-case basis approach. A pan-India law is needed,” an official said.

The new IT Act will also increase the onus on intermediaries for the content present and posted on their platform. “The protection that Section 79 (of the current IT Act) offers is too wide-ranging. A social media intermediary cannot claim protection if it does not proactively work on removing illegal content on its platform such as porn, nudity, or messages that facilitate terror and disruption,” an official said.

Another major change, which may also feature in the new Data Protection Law that is in the works, is a strict ‘age-gating’ policy, which will require the consent of parents when children sign up for social media websites. This plan has been opposed by social media intermediaries but officials said the Government wants to ensure that children below 18 are “protected and feel safe on the internet”.

Earlier this year, the IT Ministry’s new rules for social media intermediaries had led to a standoff with Facebook and Twitter with both finally appointing the grievance and compliance personnel mandated but also approaching court.

The Ministry had also asked these platforms to submit monthly reports on complaints received from users and action taken. A third requirement was for instant messaging apps to make provisions for tracking the originator of a message.

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