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How new IT rules will change the internet in India

The government’s new Intermediary Guidelines for the IT Act place certain restrictions on platforms and how they function in India (Mint)Premium
The government’s new Intermediary Guidelines for the IT Act place certain restrictions on platforms and how they function in India (Mint)

The Indian government has taken its first big step towards regulating big tech platforms. The government’s new Intermediary Guidelines for the Information Technology Act (IT Act) place certain restrictions on platforms and how they function in India. Mint explains.

The Indian government has taken its first big step towards regulating big tech platforms. The government’s new Intermediary Guidelines for the Information Technology Act (IT Act) place certain restrictions on platforms and how they function in India. Mint explains.

What are these new intermediary rules?

The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, are formed to regulate tech platforms operating in India. These will supersede the policies of platforms, which will have to comply with the new rules. These rules, along with the upcoming Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill and an expected law on cybersecurity, will determine how the internet and internet-based companies function in the country in future. They also indirectly regulate what you can or cannot do, see or access through internet. In essence, they will determine the future of the internet in India.

How do they affect users and platforms?

Platforms will have to review their own policies and ensure they comply with these rules, and more that may follow with the PDP Bill. In some cases, they will have to review their algorithms to ensure compliance, which could lead to higher research and development (R&D) costs. Platforms that don’t draw significant revenue from India could also choose to leave the country, instead of complying. For users, it would mean regulations over what they say or do on the internet. Their activities will be under greater surveillance, and there have been concerns about misuse by both platforms and the government.

Social media platforms continue to face criticism for invading users' privacy
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Social media platforms continue to face criticism for invading users' privacy

What are the rules written under these guidelines?

Social media platforms must put grievance redressal officers and trace content to first originator within India. A Code of Ethics and Procedure and Safeguards in Relation To Digital/Online Media has been put in place. Digital media will have to follow the Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India and the Programme Code under Cable TV Networks Regulation Act.

What specific rules are being criticized?

One of the primary concerns is that encrypted messaging apps will need to collect more user data to trace messages back to the first originator. This also conflicts with extraterritorial jurisdiction norms made in the IT Act. The new rules could get people into trouble even if they share a tweet/message that originated outside India, thereby shooting the messenger instead of the actual creator. Experts have said the IT Act should not apply to news media and putting them under the same norms could lead to unfair censorship of news.

Will messaging apps get access to chats?

Not necessarily. While it does mean apps will have to collect more data, experts said there are ways to ‘fingerprint’ each text, by which you can reach the first originator of a text without reading its content. Think of it this way, the police lawfully confiscates a phone, reads a text and then asks an app to find the first originator of the text. The app uses the fingerprint of that message to see where it started. This is technically possible and apps can do so without needing to read the text.

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