IFF's Statement on the notified IT Rules Amendment, 2022

On October 28, 2022, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (“MeitY”) notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2022 (hereinafter, “IT Amendment Rules, 2022”). As a result, the IT Amendment Rules, 2022, will retain several of the detrimental amendments proposed by MeitY on June 06, 2022, under the draft amendments to the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. This will unarguably cause injury to the digital rights of every Indian social media user.

One such notable provision is the establishment of a Grievance Appellate Committee (“GAC”), which is essentially a government censorship body for social media that will make bureaucrats arbiters of our online free speech. Given that the GAC would hear appeals against the decisions of social media platforms to remove content or not, it will incentivise platforms to remove/suppress/label any speech unpalatable to the government, or those exerting political pressure. In fact, since the GAC is empowered to hear appeals from users whose content has been taken down by a social media intermediary for violation of its community guidelines or terms of use, the government will also be in a position to force social media platforms to display content that the platforms have found to violate their norms.

Opaque and arbitrary methods of choosing appeals for their review, the lack of trust in an all Executive body, the ability of the government to influence content moderation decisions in a non-transparent manner are just some of the concerns arising from the IT Amendment Rules, 2022. While we have expressed concerns with the non-transparent decision making by social media platforms with respect to decisions such as "de-platforming" users, we don’t believe that creating a GAC increases government control and power, is the right approach.

We have been voicing our deep concerns with the IT Rules 2021 since it first began the consultation process back in 2018 and since then not only have wounds to the digital rights of users remained unrepaired, but they have deepened. The IT Rules, 2021 have been unequivocally criticised by experts, civil society, digital rights groups, industry bodies, technology companies, technical groups and members of the press.

“The GAC is not reflective of sound policymaking and is indicative of an approach to content moderation that is neither suitable nor capable of scaling to meet the many challenges in today’s information ecosystem. It relies on decisions taken about individual pieces of content to attempt to address systemic issues that are caused by broader societal-level problems to produce ‘accountability theatre’. Aggregation of individual decisions won’t be able to address underlying problems since they are neither repeatable nor broadly applicable, given the complexities involved.”
     - Prateek Waghre, Policy Director, Internet Freedom Foundation
A balance has to be struck between users’ safety and their free expression. Having failed to strike this balance with the IT Rules, 2021, the IT Ministry continues to make matters worse for free expression through these Amendments.”

     - Tanmay Singh, Senior Litigation Counsel, Internet Freedom Foundation

“The lack of transparency around decisions to moderate content has time and again put users at a disadvantage. However, the notified IT Amendment Rules, 2022 take this a step further as it allows the Union Government to influence such decision making by having the final say in what content stays on the internet and what doesn't. Such proximity of public officials to moderation practices will inevitably lead to heavy moderation of online speech.”

     - Tejasi Panjiar, Associate Policy Counsel, Internet Freedom Foundation

“Madras HC and Bombay HC stayed Part III of IT Rules 2021 because they violated freedom of speech and expression by permitting a government body to censor content posted by digital news platforms. Instead of addressing issues highlighted by Constitutional Courts, a government body can now censor content posted by users, even when S.69A does not permit the government to do so. These amendments will adversely affect the discourse and plurality of opinion on social media platforms.”

     - Krishnesh Bapat, Associate Litigation Counsel, Internet Freedom Foundation

Despite engaging with the Ministry and challenging the legality of IT Rules in Court, the Government has continued to perpetuate the existing illegalities by introducing amendments detrimental to social media users' rights. We urge for thoughtful consideration by MeitY to formulate a rights-respecting approach towards platform regulation. A step in that direction would be to withdraw IT Rules, 2021 in its entirety.

Important Documents:

  1. The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2022. (link)
  2. The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (link)
  3. MeitY’s proposal to amend IT Rules, 2021 dated 6th June, 2022. (link)
  4. IFF’s submission on the proposed draft amendment to IT Rules 2021 (link)
  5. IFF's letter to the Standing Committee regarding the Information Technology (Guidelines For Intermediaries And Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (link)
  6. Our deep dive on how the IT Rules 2021 are unconstitutional and undemocratic, and how they will fundamentally change an Indian user's experience on the internet. (link)