New Delhi: The ministry of electronics and information technology has prepared the draft Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2018, to make social media platforms accountable under the law.

The proposed rules, which aim to strengthen the legal framework, will replace the 2011 guidelines.

The draft rules have been issued for public consultation till 15 January, the ministry said on Monday.

The proposed guidelines puts the onus on a due diligence process that social networking sites need to follow to ensure that the platforms are not misused to spread fake news, which have led to incidents of violence across the country.

“The social network platforms are required to follow due diligence as provided in Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, and the Rules notified therein, subject to the import of Article 19(2) of the Constitution and ensure that their platforms are not used to commit and provoke terrorism, extremism, violence and crime," said the ministry.

The government’s move comes against the backdrop of a spate of lynchings following the circulation of fake news messages on social media, primarily through Facebook Inc-owned messaging service WhatsApp. Incidents have been reported from Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tripura, and West Bengal.

“The instances of misuse of social media by criminals and anti-national elements have brought new challenges to the Law Enforcement Agencies," said the ministry.

These include inducement for recruiting terrorists, circulation of obscene content, spread of disharmony, incitement of violence, public order, and fake news.

“At present, the consultation process is underway. It started with inter-ministerial consultations and thereafter consultations were held with other stakeholders, including major social media platforms/ messaging services platforms such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo, and WhatsApp, as well as associations such as the Internet and Mobile Association of India, Cellular Operators Association of India, and Internet Service Providers Association of India, representing intermediaries. The government intends to consult all stakeholders in the process," the ministry said.

The draft rules require a platform to break end-to-end encryption and introduce systems for retaining data and information so that the origin of the messages can be traced, according to a report by The Indian Express.

This is crucial as the central government and social media platforms are trying to reach common ground over the mechanism to ensure that fake messages can be traced. Earlier, WhatsApp had said that it was not possible to trace the origin of a message given its privacy settings. However, the government has sought “technical innovation" from the company to address the issue.

The insertion of Rule 3(4) makes proactive monthly notification across intermediaries to warn users repeatedly effective. “The government is committed to the freedom of speech and expression and privacy of its citizens as enshrined in the Constitution of India. The government does not regulate content appearing on social network platform," said the ministry.

The draft Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2018, requires intermediaries, or online platforms, to “deploy technology-based automated tools or appropriate mechanisms, with appropriate controls, for proactively identifying or removing or disabling access to unlawful information or content", the Indian Express report said.

However, social media platforms have to be accountable under the law to prevent its misuse and spread of fake news, it said.

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