Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology notifies New IT Rules for Digital and Social Media content regulation

Written By & co-authored by: Jasneet Kaur (Partner) and Ananya Sharma (Associate)

The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 were recently notified by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. The Rules supersede the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 and aimed at content regulation on the digital and social media platforms. Following are some of the Key Highlights:

S. No.PurposeRule and Key Highlights
1.Important DefinitionsRule 2(1)(i):‘digital media’ means digitized content that can be transmitted over the internet or computer networks and includes content received, stored, transmitted, edited or processed by
(i) an intermediary; or
(ii) a publisher of news and current affairs content or a publisher of online curated content.

Rule 2(1)(m): ‘news and current affairs content’ included newly received or noteworthy content, including analysis, especially about recent events primarily of socio-political, economic or cultural nature, made available over the internet or computer networks, and any digital media shall be news and current affairs content where the context, substance, purpose, import and meaning of such information is in the nature of news and current affairs content.

Rule 2(1)(q): ‘online curated content’ means any curated catalogue of audio-visual content, other than news and current affairs content, which is owned by, licensed to or contracted to be transmitted by a publisher of online curated content, and made available on demand, including but not limited through subscription, over the internet or computer networks, and includes films, audio visual programmes, documentaries, television programmes, serials, podcasts and other such content.

Rule 2(1)(s): ‘publisher’ means a publisher of news and current affairs content or a publisher of online curated content.

Rule 2(1)(v): ‘significant social media intermediary’ means a social media intermediary having number of registered users in India above such threshold as notified by the Central Government.Rule 2(1)(w): ‘social media intermediary’ means an intermediary which primarily or solely enables online interaction between two or more users and allows them to create, upload, share, disseminate, modify or access information using its services.

Due Diligence by IntermediariesRule 3(1):
– Will inform users about Privacy Policy, terms and conditions, rules and regulations for use of information.

– Shall block access to unlawful information as specified therein within 36 hours upon receiving actual knowledge of an order of competent court or the appropriate government authority/agency.

– Shall preserve such information, which has been removed or access to which stands disabled, for investigation purposes for 180 days or for longer as may be directed.

– Report cyber security incidents and share the above with Indian Computer Emergency Response Team.

Grievance Redressal Mechanism by IntermediariesRule 3(2):

– Name and contact details of the Grievance Officer to be prominently displayed on website or mobile based application of the Intermediaries.

– Grievance Officer to acknowledge receipt of the complaint within 24 hours and dispose off such complaint within a period of 15 days from receipt.

– Grievance Officer to acknowledge orders, notices and directions issued by a competent court or an appropriate government authority/agency.

Additional Due Diligence by a Significant Social Media IntermediaryRule 4(1): Within 3 months of the threshold for registered users being notified by the Central Government for a Significant Social Media Intermediary, following is to be observed:

Chief Compliance Officer to be appointed responsible for all compliances under the applicable law and who shall be made liable in case of failure to discharge duties of due diligence as laid down hereunder.

Nodal Contact Person to be appointed for 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies.

Resident Grievance Officer to be appointed to effectuate the Grievance Redressal Mechanism laid down under Rule 3.

– Monthly compliance reports to be published.

First Originator of InformationRule 4(2):

– Significant Social Media Intermediaries providing messaging services to provide information of the First Originator of Information upon order of Court/ Government.

– 3rd Proviso states that in complying with such an order, there would be no requirement to disclose the contents of any electronic message, any other information related to the first originator, or any information related to its other users.

Complaint Status Tracking MechanismRule 4(6):
Significant Social Media Intermediary to implement mechanism for Grievance Redressal as per Rule 3(2) with a complaint status tracking system.
Blocking / Disabling Content by Significant Social Media IntermediaryRule 4(8):

– Where information or data is removed or disabled on its own accord by the Significant Social Media Intermediary, prior notice containing reasons for such action taken to be given to the user responsible for creation, sharing or dissemination of such information or data.

– Such user to be provided with reasonable opportunity to counter the said action.

Rules 8 & 9:

Appendix for Code of Ethics added under the said Rules, applicable to publishers of news and current affairs content and publishers of online curated content.

– These are broadly applicable to – Digital News Providers, Online Curated Content Providers (OTT).

– Under the Code of Ethics, Content to be classified to be age appropriate, age verification methods to be implemented, content to be made accessible for persons with disabilities.

– Three-tier system developed to ensure adherence to the Code of Ethics by Publishers:

(a) Level I – Self-regulation by the Publishers by appointing a Grievance Officer (Rule 11);
(b) Level II Self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the Publishers headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, a High Court, or an independent eminent person from the relevant field (Rule 12);
(c) Level III Oversight mechanism by the Central Government by establishing Inter-Departmental Committees (Rule 13).

– The I&B Ministry shall appoint an officer of the Ministry not below the rank of a Joint Secretary to be “Authorised Officer” for the purposes of Rule 15 & 16.

Blocking of Content in case of EmergencyRule 16:
– In case of any emergency, the Authorized Officer is to examine whether it is expedient and justifiable to block the concerned digital media content under the grounds specified in section 69A(1) of the IT Act.

– Specific recommendation to be submitted to the Ministry of I&B, which shall pass interim orders after recording reasons in writing to the concerned Intermediaries.

– Final Order requires approval of Inter-Department Committee.

– In case of non-approval, interim order to be revoked and content to be unblocked.

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