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Government Moves To Regulate Digital Content, Streaming With New Rules

The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 prescribes, for the first time, how digital news organisations, social media platforms and OTT streaming services will be regulated by the government.

         February 25, 2021; New Delhi: The government’s new rules to regulate digital content and streaming platforms will include a strict oversight mechanism involving several ministries and a code of ethics that bans content affecting “the sovereignty and integrity of India” and that which threatens national security.

The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 prescribes, for the first time, how digital news organisations, social media platforms and OTT streaming services will be regulated by the government.

A copy of the draft rules, set to be released by IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar, has been put out by the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF).

The oversight mechanism, according to the draft, will include a committee with representatives from the ministries of Defence, External Affairs, Home, I&B, Law, IT and Women and Child Development.

This committee will have “suo motu powers” to call hearings on complaints of violation of the Code of Ethics if it wants. The committee can warn, censuring, admonish or reprimand violators, seek an apology besides other actions.

The government will designate an officer of the rank of a Joint Secretary or above as the “Authorised Officer” who can direct blocking of content.

The draft rules make traceability of the originator of messages a must on prominent social media sites, which goes against end-to-end encryption on messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and Signal.

The draft would force streaming services like Netflix and Prime Video, who objected to an independent appellate body for hearing streaming complaints, to submit to the authority of an appeals body headed by a retired high court or Supreme Court justice.

If this body believes that the content violates the law, it would be empowered to send the content to a government-controlled committee for blocking orders to be issued.

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