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India to Amend Digital Media Bill for Tech Firms

Digital Media Bill Amendment for Social Media Firms

India plans to modify the proposed guidelines to regulate digital content, so the strictest measures apply only to big social media firms.

The original proposal, according to a news report, would have obliged all tech players, in addition to social networking giants like Facebook, to implement automated tools to check for unlawful content and to appoint an officer for round-the-clock coordination with law enforcement.

The rules are part of an attempt to tackle disinformation and fake news. Since 2017, rumourmongering on social media has been blamed for mob attacks that killed 30 people across the country.

But the draft proposals, called the Intermediaries Guidelines, when they were released in December 2018, could have applied to a broad range of technology firms including e-commerce players, cloud storage providers, and telecoms companies, the report noted.

An intermediary, according to the document the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) published, needs to inform its users at least once every month, that in case of noncompliance with rules and regulations, the user agreement and privacy policy for access or usage of intermediary computer resource, the intermediary has the right to immediately terminate the access or usage rights of the users to the computer resource of the intermediary and remove noncompliant information.

The MietY is considering a two-tier system, with stricter rules similar to the original proposals applying only to social media companies.

The problem is mainly with large messaging platforms, ones that enable interaction. Some of the requirements for non-social media companies were unrealistic, a government official said.

The official told reporters that the proposed regulation for other technology companies is “minimal” and “simple”, adding the rules would be finalised later this month.

Last year, when seeking more time to finalise and notify the rules to regulate the functioning of social media intermediaries, the Centre told the Supreme Court that the internet has become a potent tool to cause “unimaginable disruption” to democratic polity.

The MietY said that although technology had led to economic growth and societal development, there was also a rise in hate speech, fake news, and anti-national activities.

The original draft rules also said that when asked by a government agency or through a court order, companies must remove or disable access to unlawful acts relatable to Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution. This is to preserve the “interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality…”

That particular requirement, however, would likely stay in the new rules for both social media and other technology firms, the sources said.

The news report noted that global internet companies Mozilla Corp, Microsoft’s GitHub, and Cloudflare Inc recently wrote an open letter to India’s IT Minister, saying the draft 2018 regulations were extremely broad and would impact many companies.

Calling for new rules to be made public soon, the companies also said the timeline of 24-hours for removing content posed significant implementation challenges.

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