Freedom of Speech and Expression not threatened by IT rules: Rajeev Chandrasekhar

Rajeev Chandrasekhar

The right to freedom of speech and expression is constitutionally guaranteed under Article 19(1) and are not contravened by the Information Technology (IT) Act and the IT Rules, 2021, said Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) in a written response to Member of Parliament, Asaduddin Owaisi’s query in the Lok Sabha.

The Minister also said that with a view to addressing upcoming issues in cyberspace, the union government has proposed to come up with part II of the IT Rules, 2021.

Last month, MeitY proposed to make changes in IT rules through public consultation that would provide more avenues apart from courts for grievance redressal, simultaneously ensuring that big-tech platforms do not transgress Indian citizens’ constitutional rights.

Chandrasekhar said, “Government policies and rulemaking are committed to ensuring an open, safe and trusted and accountable Internet for its users,” Chandrasekhar said in the written statement. “As Internet access continues to rapidly expand in India, new issues related to the above commitments also keep emerging. To deal with such new and emerging issues, as well as to keep pace with the evolving cyberspace, the government has proposed to further update the part-II of the IT Rules, 2021.”

He also emphasised that the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Codes) Rules, 2021 or the IT Rules, 2021 were formulated by the centre to ensure that intermediaries including social media platforms, can be held accountable to the users.

The Minister explained, “As per the IT Rules, 2021, the online intermediaries including Social media intermediaries have been mandated to develop a robust grievance redressal system for their users.”

Chandrasekhar further said, “They are also expected to remove any unlawful content as and when brought to their knowledge either through a court order or through a notice by the appropriate government or its authorised agency.”

He added, that they are also expected to act on any information violating their policies as and when it comes to their knowledge.

Several concerns have been raised recently by the US-India Business Council (USIBC), which is a part of the US Chamber of Commerce, and the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum over the proposed amendments to the existing IT Rules. The USIBC stated in an internal letter to MeitY stated that the Grievance Appellate Committee (GAC), formed under the IT Rules, 2021, will be entirely run by the IT ministry, leading to a lack of any checks and balances and hindering the authority’s independence. The US lobby groups also made comparisons between the grievance redressal systems of other nations, including the European Union, and India, pointing out that the former’s appeals procedure was established on the principles of fairness and impartiality.

According to the amended rules, social media has to exercise greater diligence. They are required to establish a grievance redressal mechanism and remove unlawful and inappropriate content within stipulated time frames. The grievance officer of the platform’s redressal mechanism is in charge of receiving and resolving complaints of the users. The privacy policies of social media platforms must make sure that users are informed about not disseminating copyrighted material and anything that could be seen as harming the unity, integrity, or liberty of any racial or ethnic group.