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Union government to finalise digital media rules in 3 months

The rules on the so-called intermediary liability — many digital platforms, including Facebook and WhatsApp, insist they are intermediaries and can’t regulate content — become important in the context of tackling hate speech, fake news, and other unlawful activities

The Union government told the Supreme Court that it will finalise and also notify rules for social media and digital media platforms by January 2020. ‘The draft rules are ready but these need to be discussed with other ministries and also vetted by the law ministry,” the government informed the apex court.

The rules on the so-called intermediary liability — many digital platforms, including Facebook and WhatsApp, insist they are intermediaries and can’t regulate content — become important in the context of tackling hate speech, fake news, and other unlawful activities.

In an affidavit filed in the apex court, the ministry of electronics and information technology said that considering the “complexity of the matter and the significant impact it entails on the functioning of all stakeholders, including netizens, various government departments/ministries, social media platforms, messaging platforms, websites and mobile apps etc., a conscious and bona fide decision was taken by the respondent ministry to call for further inter-ministerial consultation so that effective, robust and comprehensive rules, covering all aspects of matter can be framed. And notification of new the Information Technology Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules, 2018 is likely to be completed by 15 January 2020.”

Stressing the importance of having these guidelines, the affidavit said: “Internet has emerged as a potent tool to cause unimaginable disruption to the democratic polity, it was felt that the extant rules to be revised for effective regulation of intermediaries keeping in view the ever growing threats to individual rights and nation’s integrity, sovereignty, and security.”

The government’s filing was a response to a September 24 instruction by the apex court, asking it to file an affidavit within three weeks on the timeline for drafting regulations for social media companies.

The Government defines intermediaries as telecom service providers, network service providers, internet service providers, web-hosting service providers, search engines, e-payment sites, e-auction sites, e-market places and cyber cafes.

On September 24, the court also said the rules should strike a balance between state sovereignty and an individual’s privacy. Central government advocate Rajat Nair informed the court about the affidavit.

The case will be taken up for further hearing on Tuesday.

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