Minister for Electronics and Information Technology and Communications, Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Thursday (May 27) that WhatsApp users will not be affected by new IT rules. He further asserted that the new IT rules are designed to prevent abuse and misuse of platforms, and offer users a robust forum for grievance redressal.
“The new Rules are only designed to prevent abuse and misuse of social media. Government welcomes criticism including the right to ask questions. The Rules only empower the ordinary users of social media when they become victims of abuse and misuse,” he posted on Twitter as well as Koo.
Earlier, WhatsApp had legally challenged the provision of tracking the first originator of a message, which the Minister declared as “a clear act of defiance of a measure whose intent can certainly not be doubted”.
The rule under question, ‘4(2) of the Intermediary Rules’, states that “a significant social media intermediary providing services primarily in the nature of messaging shall enable the identification of the first originator of the information on its computer resource as may be required.”
On 25th May, the last day for social media companies to comply with the new IT Rules, Facebook-owned WhatsApp approached the Delhi High court to make a case that complying with the rules would mean breaking its “end-to-end” encryption that is between every chat on the platform. This would infringe upon the fundamental right to privacy of its users.
“WhatsApp thus enables government officials, law enforcement, journalists, members of ethnic or religious groups, scholars, teachers, students, and the like to exercise their right to freedom of speech and expression without fear of retaliation,” it said in its plea.
However, Facebook had earlier said, “We aim to comply with the provisions of the IT rules and continue to discuss a few of the issues which need more engagement with the government. Pursuant to the IT rules, we are working to implement operational processes and improve efficiencies, Facebook remains committed to people’s ability to freely and safely express themselves on our platform.”
According to the rules announced in February, non-compliance with the IT rules will result in the social media network losing its status as “intermediaries” and may become liable for criminal action.
The IT rules aim to make significant social media networks more accountable for the content hosted on their platform. Under the new rules, companies will have to take down posts depicting nudity or morphed photos within 24 hours of receiving a complaint. The regulations will require setting up a strong complaint redressal mechanism with an officer being based in India. The social media firms will also need to publish monthly compliance reports detailing the complaints received and actions taken, as well as details of contents removed.
Delhi Police had raided Twitter headquarters on 24th to serve a notice over an alleged toolkit prepared by the Indian National Congress to amplify the support given to Covid patients.
Twitter later agreed to comply with the rules but expressed concern over “use of intimidation tactics by the police” and “potential threat” to freedom of expression.