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SOPs on IT Rules may institute nodal officers for issuing content takedown orders: Report

Disabling content within 36 hours is one of the requirements of the Rules which leave a lot open to interpretation.

Answering a key query raised by social media platforms on the IT Rules, the government might be instituting ministry-level nodal officers to order content takedowns. According to a report by the Hindustan Times, an inter-ministerial review underway for the formulation of the Standard Operating Procedures on the IT Rules 2021 is considering a proposal to have nodal officers as each ministry has expertise in what constitutes unlawful content.

The SOPs are being drafted by a committee comprising officials from the ministries of Information Technology, Information and Broadcasting, and Law and Justice, the report added.

Since the IT Rules came into force last year, multiple social media intermediaries have asked for clarification on various aspects of the Rules, including on which authorities can issue orders for content takedowns.

What do the IT Rules say about content takedown orders?

The IT Rules require quick takedowns of unlawful content from a platform after the social media intermediary has been notified of the same. The provisions lay down that such notifications can come from a court order of competent jurisdiction, appropriate government, or its agency, following which the content has to be removed within 36 hours.

According to the Rules, this unlawful content is in relation to the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign States; public order, decency or morality, in relation to contempt of court, defamation, incitement to an offence, and anything else outlawed.

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Clarifications required on the IT Rules, 2021

There are multiple questions around the IT Rules which are still left unanswered.

Safeguards around government take-down requests: As per the IT Rules, social media intermediaries, upon receiving a court order or notification from the appropriate government or its agency, must remove content that is deemed unlawful within 36 hours.

  • What hasn’t been clarified:
    • What safeguards are there to ensure that blocking orders are not sent to intermediaries through multiple agencies at the Central and State level?
    • Will agencies request the taking down or blocking of any content by coordinating with the authorised agency at the Central Government level?
    • What are the constitutional safeguards to be met for information to be taken down?
    • What way can an intermediary ask for clarification or appeal of the notification received?

Determining the authenticity of a government request: As per the IT Rules, authorised government agencies can issue notification for content takedown or demand information and assistance from an intermediary.

  • What hasn’t been clarified: Social media organisations often receive email requests with imposters posing as government officers. Will the government share certain standard identifiers to enable organisations to know whether a request was issued by the appropriate authority or whether the proper process of requesting a takedown was followed?

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I cover health technology for MediaNama, among other things. Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

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