India Introduces Sweeping Internet Law Covering Social Media and Streaming Platforms

By Bill Toulas / February 25, 2021

India’s IT and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has announced the introduction of a new set of regulations underpinning internet entities like social media companies and streaming service providers. From now on, everyone will be required to acknowledge official take-down requests within 24 hours and take action within 15 max. For take-down requests that concern sensitive cases like sexual material, the internet companies will be required to take action within 24 hours.

The entities will be required to appoint a chief compliance officer who will be held accountable for the above and also a nodal contact officer who will be reachable 24/7. The requirement also includes a resident grievance officer, while all firms will have to operate an office in the country from now on. As Ravi Shankar stated, social media companies will also have to ensure that they know who posted the objectionable content, so there’s a traceability requirement involved here too.

Every month, internet companies will be obliged to publish a compliance report where they’ll disclose the number of take-down requests they’ve received and what actions they took. Users of these platforms will be given the option to verify their accounts using their official identification documents, but for starters, this will be done voluntarily.

The IT Minister commented that India is the world’s largest market for these large tech companies, so if they want to continue to make money there, they’ll have to comply with the government’s requirements. The announcement mentions the need to assign accountability in the case of infringement of people’s rights, stop child abuse, prevent the uploading of rape videos, etc.

Due to the sizes of the userbases belonging to popular internet platforms, large companies will be given a period of three months to prepare for the new law and implement the requested systems. For example, Facebook counts 410 million users, Instagram has 210 million users, YouTube has 450 million users, and WhatsApp has reached 530 million users in India. Smaller firms, though, are expected to comply immediately.

It is unusual to see a guideline become law and entering immediate enforcement without any public consultation with key industry players and expert consultants. However, this seems to be the case here as the Indian IT Ministry is catching everyone unprepared with demands that will be quite hard to meet.

For example, user privacy will have to be trampled up to a point since everyone will have to be identified and traced. Obviously, there are also serious concerns around freedom of speech and suppression of voices that oppose the establishment.

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