The rules require significant social media intermediaries, including WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter etc. to create means to track the first originator of posts, tweets and texts within the country
The Indian government has written to social media companies today, asking for an update on the compliance status for India’s new Intermediary Guidelines, often referred to as IT rules. The new rules were notified on February 25 and the government gave “significant social media intermediaries (SSMI)" three months to comply with the request. Any social media platform with more than 50 lakh (5 million) users will be designated as a significant social media intermediary. The rules came into effect today.
The rules require significant social media intermediaries, including WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter etc. to create means to track the first originator of posts, tweets and texts within the country. They also require intermediaries to appoint Indian citizens in compliance roles, create automated processes for taking down pornography, set up mechanisms to respond to complaints, and remove offending content within 36 hours of receiving a legal order.
Apart from the overall compliance status for these rules, the government asked companies to provide the contact details of their new chief compliance officer, nodal officer, grievance redressal offer.
“The additional due diligence required from SSMI [significant social media intermediaries] have come into effect today, at the conclusion of three additional months given to SSMIs," implying that social media firms who are non-compliant with the rules will not be able to avail the safe harbour protections provided to them under Section 79 of India’s IT Act. This is the part of the Act that keeps Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc. from being sued for posts, comments and text messages that users send using the platforms.
At the moment, platforms like Facebook and Google have put out job postings for a Chief Compliance Officer, and both have issued statements saying they aim to comply with the rules. However, Facebook-owned WhatsApp sued the government on May 25, alleging that the rules violate the Supreme Court’s Right to Privacy ruling of 2017.
“Requiring messaging apps to “trace" chats is the equivalent of asking us to keep a fingerprint of every single message sent on WhatsApp, which would break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermines people’s right to privacy," the company said in a statement. “We have consistently joined civil society and experts around the world in opposing requirements that would violate the privacy of our users. In the meantime, we will also continue to engage with the Government of India on practical solutions aimed at keeping people safe, including responding to valid legal requests for the information available to us," it added.
The government has responded to the case as well, saying that the intent behind the rules is not to violate the right to privacy. “The Government of India is committed to ensure the Right to Privacy to all citizens but at the same time it is also the responsibility of the government to maintain law and order, and ensure national security," said Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. “None of the measures proposed by India will impact the normal functioning of WhatsApp in any manner whatsoever and for the common users, there will be no impact," Prasad added in the statement.