Content that has been “fact checked” and identified as fake by the Centre’s fact-checking unit must be taken down, the draft amendment to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 said.
This means that intermediaries like digital news portals and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube which are governed by the IT Rules, 2021 will have to take down content that is "identified as fake or false by the fact check unit at the Press Information Bureau of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting or other agency authorised by the Central Government for fact-checking".
If passed, this will be an added due diligence intermediaries would need to comply with in order to enjoy safe habour or legal immunity from third-party content hosted by them.
On January 17, the revised scope of the amendments came to light when the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) extended the consultation period for the draft amendments to the IT Rules till January 25. In its earlier avatar, the proposed IT Rules centered around rules for online gaming to ensure "conformity with Indian laws" and "safeguard" gamers against potential harm.
Civil rights and internet advocacy groups have raised alarms at what could be perceived as the Centre’s attempt to become the sole arbiter of what is considered to be the truth. There is also disquiet over the “piecemeal” amendments being introduced at the ninth hour. The proposed amendment also takes on added significance in the run-up to the General Assembly slated for 2024.
“While we will study these updated amendments further, we are disappointed that significant changes to an ongoing consultation process have been made on the final day when many stakeholders would already have submitted their comments,” the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) said in its statement released on Twitter.
“Additionally, this could also severely impact trust in any upcoming public consultations in 2023. Continuing piecemeal amendments as we wait for a ‘Digital India Bill’ without the articulation of clear vision or plan are matters of great concern,” it added.
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