New IT rules; Censorship or correct information?


By: Master Hanan Moumin

The gradual conversion of a myriad of human experiences into the virtual world has indeed paved the way for the dawn of the digital age rapidly transforming almost every aspect of human existence. Modern man’s advances into the future are often elongated by scientific and technological reach, and the contribution of modern information technology to extending this understanding of man draws no parallel. In addition to revolutionizing the methods and means of personal interaction, information technologies have also given rise to “social media” which, unlike conventional media, offers a multi-dimensional interactive platform for both the receiver and the author of the information without assigning specific roles to its users. . Based on numerous websites and web portals that dot the internet horizon, social media is accessible at all times and it is this flexibility that has attracted far more users than conventional media.

The mercurial growth of this neo-media has been largely unchecked and as India entered a digital revolution and attracted more and more social media users, the evils and dark sides of a media unregulated information began to emerge. In an ever-changing technological landscape, it is often difficult to design rules and laws to suit each situation while doing full justice to the usefulness of the technology it seeks to regulate.

The 2021 IT Rules, notified by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY), have caused an outcry among “internet users” and the particular reasons attributed to such outcry are exactly why it is urgent need to implement rules to regulate social media. The 2021 IT rules were notified as early as February 2021 and a deadline of May 2021 was set by the authorities, giving major social media websites time to adhere and comply with the requirements of these new rules. As the deadline approached, speculations began to proliferate and in the absence of any confirmation from the major social media websites regarding compliance with the rules, the fake news from these banned portals inaccessible to internet users emerged and were a brutal shock. However, these rules never consisted of such a provision that mentioned banning any website for non-compliance, but in the digital world, “fact-checking” and “verification” are affordable luxuries. for a few. The fire of fake news regarding the banning of social media websites was not yet fully extinguished and in the meantime a “forwarded message” started making the rounds on “Whatsapp”. These were many steps taken by the current dispensation to implement an Orwellian oversight system. Unsurprisingly, the “viral post” also turned out to be a fake only intended to create mass hysteria amid the implementation of new rules.

Lately, the cases of fake news and fake messages have increased many notches and the pandemic-induced lockdown after the pandemic, the frequency of cases has increased significantly. Misleading and false information is constantly disseminated to the masses, which has the potential to incite fear and anger among the masses, leading to strange breakdowns in the social system and the resulting economic disasters.

It is common knowledge that all content available on social media websites is user generated and even though the websites have no control over the content generated on its platform, the legal obligation to exercising due diligence and following government guidelines has always been there. . This is the reason why content related to pornography, violence and digital piracy cannot be posted or viewed on these websites. Prior to the implementation of the new IT Rules 2021, the 2011 rules governed the conduct of social media websites and required those websites to disable access or remove objectionable content such as fake news or illegal information after having read these contents. The term “actual knowledge” was interpreted by the nation’s Supreme Court in the landmark judgment of Shreya Singal and meant “knowledge of a court order directing it (the website) to disable access to or remove such information”, thereby introducing an element of judicial review and preventing arbitrary executive action. The new rules retained and incorporated the principle set out in Shreya Singal case with respect to “actual knowledge”. In addition, the new rules also established mechanisms for the establishment of a claim remedy in the event that a person has an objection regarding content hosted by a particular social media website on its platform.

A debatable issue is the violation of these provisions with the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression as enshrined in the constitution. However, the position of the law is clear that the freedoms enshrined in Article 19 are not absolute and are subject to reasonable restrictions such as public order and security. Another problem attributed to the new 2021 rules is the tracking of the “author” of a message or content posted on social networks, according to which all these websites and applications are required to disclose the information relating to the author of any illegal content. or misleading by established standards. An order requiring a website to identify the first author may only be issued to prevent, detect, investigate or prosecute any offense relating to the sovereignty or integrity of India, its security and its relations with other countries, to public order and in relation to information describing rape. or sexually explicit material or child pornography.

As the digital realm expands into uncharted territories, the need to introduce and implement up-to-date technology legislation and regulations will be imminent and global. Even in a country like China, where cyberspace is limited only to local websites and no international social media websites or apps are accessible, newer and stricter laws are being implemented and many large corporations Internet like AliBaba and ByteDance have come under intense scrutiny. from the Cyberspace Administration of China. Similarly, there is still a long way to go in India, which has long neglected the need for a data protection law, which can essentially give effect to the fundamental right to privacy and settle once and for all the debate allowed/ not allowed.

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