The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology is looking to make changes to certain sections of the Information Technology (IT) Act to make social media intermediaries, such as Facebook and Twitter, and over-the-top (OTT) platforms, such as Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Video, more accountable for the content shared through their platforms.
A decision in this regard has been finalised and may be announced by the government as soon as next week, senior government officials said. On February 12, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told the Rajya Sabha that the government was working to bring new rules to make social media intermediaries more responsive to the government’s directions as well as its law enforcement agencies.
One of the major changes being looked at is to amend Section 79 of the IT Act to make online companies “proactively trace, detect and prevent” unlawful content from being shared on their platforms.
Section 79 of the IT Act protects social media intermediaries by giving them immunity from legal prosecution for any content posted on their platforms. However, the protection provided fails if the government notifies the intermediary that if “any information, data or communication link residing in or connected to a computer resource controlled by the intermediary is being used to commit the unlawful act and the intermediary fails to expeditiously remove or disable access to that material”.
“An intermediary cannot absolve itself of all responsibilities by claiming to provide just a service,” a senior government official said.
Another key change, a senior official said, would be for the intermediary or the OTT platform to remove or disable access to unlawful content either immediately or not later than 24 hours of “receiving actual knowledge in the form of a court order, or on being notified by the appropriate government agency.” The changes to the IT Act are being done in the event of the confrontation between the government and Twitter. Officials, however, said the changes were also necessary to “balance and check” the power that such intermediaries wielded over citizens.
“Under the IT Act, the definition of an intermediary is very broad and covers nearly all platforms which upload, manage, or allow sharing of content. We may at a later stage also look at an umbrella body like TRAI to oversee all these platforms and manage other functions,” another official said.