Draft amendments to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 published for comments

On 6 June 2022, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) published proposed draft amendments to the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 (“IT Rules, 2021”). The draft amendments propose to further tighten the compliance requirements for significant intermediaries such as social media sites concerning the grievance redressal mechanism.

Under the proposed amendments, the Central Government can establish Grievance Appellate Committees (GACs) for hearing user complaints against intermediaries. This need has arisen because intermediaries currently do not provide any appellate mechanism nor is there a credible self-regulatory mechanism. GACs may address user complaints within 30 days of receipt. The draft amendments, however, specify that a user can directly appeal an intermediary's decision to a court of law without approaching a GAC first.

The draft amendments specify that the GACs will comprise of a chairperson and other members. Further, intermediaries must comply with the orders passed by a GAC. However, there is a lack of clarity on the number of GACs that will be constituted, the eligibility criteria for the appointment of members to a GAC, and the rules for the functioning of the GAC.

The draft further proposes to tighten the timelines for intermediaries in dealing with user grievances. The current Rules require the intermediary to acknowledge the grievance within 24 hours and then dispose it of within 15 days; complaints for the removal of any content are to be addressed within 72 hours instead of the current 15 days. Additionally, in the case of significant social media intermediaries, a user affected by any decision of the intermediary may raise the dispute to the Resident Grievance Officer who must dispose of the matter within 72 hours instead of the current period of 15 days.

The draft amendments also propose that social media platforms respect the constitutional rights of citizens. This could mean that contractually agreed terms and conditions between the intermediary and the user will be subordinated in case of a conflict.

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