India may require Twitter, Facebook and others to remove unlawful content within 36 hours

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India may require Twitter, Facebook and others to remove unlawful content within 36 hours
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  • Following incidents of showdown against social media companies, the Indian government could be gearing up to bring amendments in its laws.
  • These proposed amendments to Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2011 could reportedly obligate social media companies to remove ‘unlawful’ content within 36 hours of an order of a court or the government.
  • The government could also seek these companies to set up automated tools to remove ‘unlawful’ content.
India is reportedly gearing up to announce new policies to require Twitter, Facebook and other social media companies to remove ‘unlawful’ content within 36 hours of orders issued by a court or the government.

According to a report by The Times of India, the proposed amendments bring down the time limit to remove content from 72 hours to 36 hours. This is aimed at being more responsive when it comes to requests made by users.

The amendments are being made to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2011. A summary of the existing guidelines can be read on PRS Legislative Research.

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“36 hours is adequate time and in line with global standards to initiate a takedown on the part of intermediaries,” Simranjeet Singh, Partner, Athena Legal, told Business Insider.

“It has consistently been argued by the intermediaries that they can immediately take down content post receiving actual knowledge of any illegal acts being perpetrated on their platforms,” he further added.

“Koo will respect the laws of the land. We understand the importance of freedom of speech and at the same time we also understand the need to operate within the legal boundaries of our country of operation. Policies around social media are welcome because they make some of the nebulous things around what's acceptable and what's not, legally known and enforced. This reduces the vagueness around clear actions that need to be taken by platforms,” said Mayank Bidawatka, Co founder, Koo, the new upcoming Indian alternative to Twitter.

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Who are these intermediaries?



Intermediaries here refers to social media companies like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp among others.

The report states that the government may require companies with over 50 lakh users to have an office in India and appoint an officer to coordinate with the law enforcement agencies when required.

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What is ‘unlawful’ content?



Unlawful content, as defined under Rule 3(2) of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2011, includes content that is harmful, harassing, blasphemous, defamatory, obscene, infringes on copyright or patent, or violates any law for the time being in force.

A detailed reading can be obtained here.

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Obligating intermediaries to remove unlawful content



According to the report, the government may push social media companies to identify the source of unlawful content to allow the law enforcement agencies to take action against them.

The proposed amendments in intermediary guidelines come at a time when Twitter has been caught in the middle of a battle between activists and protestors, and the Indian government.

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It is facing heat from both protestors as well as the government due to how it has dealt with content on its platform around topics related to the farmer protests.

The proposed guidelines will obligate social media companies to create automated tools for “proactively identifying and removing or disabling public access to such information or content”, the report added.

Setting up a grievance redressal portal to address user complaints



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According to another report by Hindustan Times quoting anonymous sources, the government could set up a dedicated grievance redressal portal. This would allow social media users to lodge their complaints, which would then have to be addressed by the social media companies.

This could be along the lines of PG Portal, a dedicated grievance redressal mechanism that covers services provided by the government or public sector undertakings like the India Post, BSNL, and others.

According to data released by the Ministry of Home Affairs, over 93,000 cases of cybercrime were registered from 2017 to 2019.

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The government already has a portal for reporting cybercrime and fraud at cybercrime.gov.in. However, a revamp that would make it easier for victims to get these complaints addressed could prove to be helpful.

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