ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The IT Amendment Rules, 2023

Censorship in the Guise of Fact-checking

The Information Technology Amendment Rules of 2023 grant the union government the authority to remove any online content pertaining to its business that it deems to be false or misleading. Under these rules, social media platforms and intermediaries will be deprived of the protection of the safe harbour principle if they fail to comply with government orders. The use of vague and broad wording “in respect of any business” raises concerns over its chilling effect on the right to freedom of speech and expression.

The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2023 were notified by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on 6 April 2023. Apart from provisions related to online gaming, the rules also grant authority to a “fact check unit of the Central Government” to label internet content concerning “any business of the Central Government” as “fake, false or mis­leading” and mandate its removal from the internet. This implies that the union government now possesses the authority to remove any information it considers false, and there is more to it. The amendment includes a provision revoking the legal protection granted to social media platforms and intermediaries under Section 79 of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000, if they fail to comply with the union government’s orders.

According to Section 79 of the IT Act, 2000, intermediaries are exempt from hosting third-party data, information, or communication, as long as they practise “due diligence” while performing their duties under the act as defined by the IT rules. However, if an intermediary fails to do so, they will not receive immunity from liability under Section 79. Essentially, the government has granted itself unrestricted authority to decide what is true or false concerning its own affairs and to demand its removal from the internet accordingly. However, there is no information about the regulatory frame­work that will guide this fact-checking unit. It seems the real purpose behind this amendment is to remove all types of criticism of the union government (Sibal 2023).

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Updated On : 31st Oct, 2023
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