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Overview of the Information Technology Rules, 2021

The Government has announced the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (Rules) to regulate intermediaries, publishers of news media and online curated content. The Rules provides new definitions for digital media, news and current affairs content and online curated content, and introduced obligations for publishers of such content and intermediaries. In furtherance of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (Act), intermediaries are required to carry out due diligence obligations under Part II of the Rules. Additional due diligence obligations have been imposed for 'significant social intermediaries' (the threshold for such intermediaries will be notified by the government).

Intermediaries are obligated to publish on their website, applications or both, the rules and regulations, privacy policy and user agreement for access or usage of its computer resource by any person. Users must not share/host/transmit information that is in contravention to the Rules, including information that threatens the sovereignty, unity, integrity of India, is violative of any law, incites any offence, is defamatory in nature, etc. Pursuant to Section 79 of the Act, intermediaries are required to remove such information within 36 hours upon receiving an order from the court or the Government. It is further obligated to provide information or any assistance to a government authority lawfully authorised for investigative or protective or cyber security activities

The Rules have provided that applicable entities must abide by a Code of Ethics provided in the Rules. In case of any grievances relating to the Code of Ethics, the Rules have prescribed a three-tier mechanism: self-regulation by the publisher, regulation by a self regulating body, and an Oversight Mechanism by the Ministry. Applicable entities must constitute a grievance redressal mechanism and a Grievance Officer within the entity. Further, they must form a self-regulating independent body to ensure adherence to the Code of Ethics. At the top of this structure, an Oversight Mechanism will ensure compliance of the bodies and the entities. The Rules also provide for the creation of a grievance portal as well as the constitution of an Inter-Departmental Committee by the Ministry.

Applicable entities and the self-regulating body are required to make true and full disclosure of all grievances received by it, the manner in which the grievances are disposed, the action taken on the grievance, the reply sent to the complainant, the orders/directions received by it under the rules and action taken on such orders/directions. The Appendix to the Rules provides for guidance on the Code of Ethics, separately delineated for publishers of news and current affairs, publishers of online curated content. Publishers of news and current affairs must adhere to the norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India under the Press Council Act, 1978 and Programme Code under section 5 of the Cable Television Networks regulation) Act, 1995. Further, they cannot publish or transmit content which is prohibited under any law for the time being in force.

Publishers of online curated content must abide by general principles when publishing content, specifically not publishing/transmitting/exhibiting content which is prohibited by courts, laws, or that which affects the sovereignty and integrity of India, threatens, endangers or jeopardizes the security of the State, or which is detrimental to India’s friendly relations with foreign countries. The Rules have classified content in the following categories: U, U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+ and A and can be classified on the basis of i) Themes and messages; (ii) Violence; (iii) Nudity; (iv) Sex; (v) Language; (v) Drug and substance abuse; and (vi) Horror as described in the Schedule of the Rules. As per classifications, content must be appropriately restricted and access control mechanisms must be introduced by entities.

The Schedule to the Rules prescribe guidelines for classification of films and other entertainment programmes. Factors such as context, theme, tone and impact and target audience serves as the basis for classification. The Schedule also prescribes guidelines related to issues displayed by the content, such as nudity, language, psychotropic substances, violence. Finally, the schedule prescribes guidelines for classification based on the category ratings ranging from U to A.

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