The ministry for electronics and IT notified Information Technology (intermediary guidelines and digital media ethics code) rules 2021. These new IT rules supersede the old IT rules of 2011. The new IT rules are more comprehensive in nature and introduces multi facets guidelines which remain dormant in the old IT rules.
The most essential amendment in the new IT rules is rule 4(2) which imposes an obligation on the social media forums providing messaging services to trace the first originator of the message or a social media post which affects the integrity, sovereignty of the country or affects the relations with other countries and anything which incites public order or portrays sexual abuse on women and children. This rule is embodied with a penal punishment for not less than 5 years under IPC 1860 and it does not obligate the intermediary to disclose the contents of the message of the first originator.
The traceability rule has drastically affected the social media platforms like WhatsApp LLC, Facebook and Twitter etc. and makes them aggrieved as the traceability of messages between the first originators and receivers undermines privacy protection policies and infringes the fundamental rights of its users, especially the right to privacy under Article 21 and right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1) of the Indian constitution. Further, the traceability rule also puts an end to the end-to-end encryption of the messages between the first originators and receivers which. The third concern is about the creation of a platform or a portal for the collection and storage of billions of messages exchanged between people on social media platforms.
It must be kept in mind that the fundamental rights as enshrined in Indian Constitution are not absolute in nature and they are curtailed by the reasonable restriction. For example, the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 (1) is not absolute in nature because it is curtailed by the reasonable restriction under Article 19 (2), similarly the right to privacy under Article 21 is also subject to reasonable restrictions which is apparent from the Apex court decisions in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) case, Ritesh Sinha case and Modern Dental College and Research Centre case. Further, rule 4 (1) (a), also ensures the principle of natural justice to the first originator by sending them, a prior intimation notice specifying all the grounds and reasons for the action of the elimination of certain information also gives them a right to reply to that notice.
On a perusal of rule 4(2), it can be ascertained that the life of the citizens of this country is not at risk and the traceability rule is only introduced to catch the culprit who attempts to downgrade India’s reputation in the world, puts the integrity and sovereignty of this country at bay and attempts to degrade the women and children who are a victim of sexual abuse but the traceability principle suffers from one flaw that is the issuance of direction to Social media intermediaries by the Government and this flaw can be cured by amending rule 4 (2) to the extent that the direction as given by Government must bear the judicial approval. Therefore, the new IT rules are a step forward to protect its citizens in an efficacious manner.