Changes in draft on intermediary liability likely

With days to go for the notification of rules on so-called intermediary liability — many digital platforms insist they are intermediaries and can’t regulate content — by the Union ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY), tweaks could be made in draft rules to fix culpability and include action against terrorism and child pornography, an official has said.

The Union government had in October said it would finalise and notify Information Technology Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules, 2018, for social media and digital media platforms by January this year. The rules are important in the context of tackling hate speech, fake news, and other unlawful activities. The government had told the Supreme Court the draft rules were ready and needed to be discussed and vetted.

On Saturday, an IT ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the culpability of intermediaries could be one of the rethinks in the draft rules after the ministry held wide consultations. “Whether the intermediary has to take suo moto action, or it takes it after a directive from the government is one of the points being discussed,” said the official.

Section 3(9) of the rules states that any intermediary should “deploy technology-based automated tools or appropriate mechanisms” to identify and remove “unlawful” content. The official said unlawful content, too, could be redefined to include terrorism and child sexual abuse imagery.

As per the IT ministry’s affidavit to SC in the Facebook transfer petition in October last year, the notification was likely to be completed by January 15. Several intermediaries expressed their reservations due to the government’s stance on traceability. WhatsApp, which has 400 million users in India, has said changes could interfere with privacy.

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