[Answered] Discuss the Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules issued in 2018. Why these rules are important?

Demand of the question
Introduction. What are intermediaries?
Body. What are Key provisions of Intermediaries Guidelines Rules, 2018? Significance of the Intermediaries Guidelines.
Conclusion. Way forward.

Intermediaries are entities that store or transmit data on behalf of other persons. They include internet or telecom service providers, and online market places. Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had proposed to amend Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act. The Rules are viewed as a way to remove fake news and propagandas through intermediaries regulation.

Key provisions of Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules, 2018:

  1. Prohibited Categories: The Rules require each intermediary such as Facebook, Google, WhatsApp, and others to publish terms of use. These terms of use are required to prohibit the user from hosting certain content, including content that is grossly harmful or obscene. The Draft Rules prohibit a new category of information which threatens ‘public health or safety’, and includes promotion of cigarettes or tobacco products or consumption of intoxicants including alcohol and nicotine.
  2. Removal of content: Any intermediary must, on receipt of a court order or on being notified by the government, remove access to unlawful content. These are acts related to the sovereignty of India, security, and public order, among others.  Such removal must be done by the intermediary within 24 hours.  Further, intermediaries must also deploy automated tools to identify and remove public access to unlawful content. 
  3. Assistance: Intermediaries must provide assistance to government agencies (based on a lawful order), within 72 hours. Further, they must enable tracing of the originator of the information on its platform.
  4. Registered physical presence: Certain intermediaries must be incorporated in India, under the Companies Act, 2013. These are those with more than fifty lakh users or as notified by the government. They must also have a permanent office in India, and designate persons for coordination with government agencies. 

Significance of the Intermediaries Guidelines:

  1. This should help in proactively identifying and removing or disabling public access to unlawful information or content.
  2. It will help in enhancing the internet security more stringently. The intermediaries are now required as per 2018 Rules to inform the user once every month.
  3. If the Rules and regulations, privacy policy and user agreement to access or usage of Intermediary computer resource are not complied with, then the intermediaries reserves the right to terminate such access and usage.
  4. It will Act as a constant reminder for the users about such policies and regulations and prevent them from committing breach, which can lead to bad repercussions.
  5. The 2018 Rules further provides that whenever an order is issued by the government agencies seeking information or assistance concerning cyber security, then the intermediaries must provide them the same within 72 hours. Initially such request could have been made only through writing but now the government has included that such requests can now be made even via electronic means.
  6. It will make social media accountable under law and protect people and intermediaries from misusing the same.
  7. This step would help to crack down on fake and inflammatory posts and messages that can cause violence including lynching across the country.

Although the draft rules have been criticised for expanding the scope for state surveillance of citizens. Internet/Online Intermediary. But these draft rules are in line with various judgments given by the Supreme Court (SC) to deal with malicious online content. There are some concerns but there is also scope to make regulations better and improved.

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