Centre open to idea of self regulating grievance redressal by social media : Chandrasekhar | #socialmedia


New Delhi: Social media intermediaries and internet platforms can set up their own self-regulated grievance appellate body in place of a government-backed committee, according to minister of state for electronics and information technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who said the centre is “ open to such an idea.”

The government had to introduce the idea of a grievance appellate committee in its draft amendment to the Information Technology Rules 2021–released on Monday—owing to what the minister termed as the lack of avenues for citizens to appeal against the decisions of social media intermediaries and other big tech platforms, currently.

“It is our thinking that if the industry and these platforms come up with their own self-regulatory, self-redressal appellate mechanism, we are open to it. Today there is nothing,” Chandrasekhar told a select media briefing on Tuesday.

Further, any such industry-led committee cannot be a replacement for the courts and the legal system but can only provide users with an additional avenue for grievance redressal, he noted.

The introduction of the appellate mechanism was a part of the “natural justice” process for the system, according to the minister who said, “there were many reports and complaints that a letter is sent to the grievance officer, which they acknowledge but do nothing about.”

“This appellate jurisdiction issue arises only because of some big tech platforms not adhering to the spirit of the grievance officer and the grievance redressal model that has been put into place in the IT Rules,” he stated.

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To be sure, the proposed appellate committee will function only as an additional avenue for users who are still free to approach the courts for redressal. However, very few citizens are able to approach courts as “it is an expensive process. There are lawyers involved, you have to spend money,” said Chandrasekhar pointing to the several cases already being fought in the courts countrywide.

“In a sense, the courts give the advantage to the corporate over the citizens,” he added.

Industry pushback

Despite the government’s assurance that there will be ample public consultation before the final rules are put in place, it is yet to placate several technology policies lobbies, some of whom are also calling for the withdrawal of the proposed changes.

“MeitY will essentially be able to appoint itself to sit on top of social media platforms & decide what millions of Indians can or cannot say on their Facebook or Twitter profiles. This is being done with no transparency or accountability measures built into the Rules,” Internet Freedom Foundation, a tech policy, and cybersecurity group said in a statement on Twitter on Tuesday.

“For these (& several other reasons), we reiterate that @GoI_MeitY must withdraw the Rules in their entirety. The proposed amendment doesn’t address existing concerns,” it stated.

Republished draft changes

Late on Monday night, the IT ministry had republished a draft of the proposed changes to the country’s technology and social media regulations, which were first notified in February 2021 and brought into effect from May 2021.

It said the proposed changes are aimed at providing a “more effective grievance redressal” system and to plug “infirmities and gaps’ in the existing regulations.

The draft recommendations, which came a week after a similar proposal had been pulled down within hours of being uploaded, seek to address challenges thrown up by the expanding digital ecosystem as well as gaps in the current regulations especially, “vis-a-vis Big Tech platform, the ministry stated.

Apart from being open to the idea of an industry-regulated mechanism, the ministry also believes that the new rules will be an “evolving process”, and the final shape of the rules could be different from the one notified by the ministry.

Terming this as “the start of public consultation,” Chandrasekhar told reporters that the centre is open to suggestions from industry, users, and other bodies. “ If somebody has a better idea or solution that meets the test of ( ensuring) Indian users have accountability (from) platforms, we are open to that idea.”

“ It is not our priority to sit on top of a big tech platform and figure out whether they are doing their job or not,” he added.

The ministry has provided 30 days for all stakeholders to submit their views and suggestions to Monday’s draft recommendations.

It will also hold a physical stakeholder consultation by the second week of June and aims to finalise and publish the final version of the IT Rules before July, the minister said.

Tracking first originator

In his interaction with reporters on Tuesday, Chandrasekhar reiterated the government’s stand on tracking the first originator on instant messaging platforms saying, “the government would never compromise on its stand.”

“It will not change ever. The day you decide that as a platform you do not want to have a safe harbour, you are liable for all the illegalities that occur on your platform. The first originator clause of the IT Rules is very specific that when a court order says to find out who originated this crime, it has to be done,” he said.

Chandrasekhar also said that the clause in the proposed changes to the IT Rules, which says that intermediaries must respect the rights guaranteed to an Indian citizen under the Constitution was to protect the rights under Articles 14, 19, and 21.

For example, Article 14 comes into play in cases where users are de-platformed without being given a chance or an option to appeal. While, Article 19, ensures the platform cannot sit in judgment over what content is inflated, muted, or suppressed and Article 21 aims to ensure user privacy.



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