India refutes concerns on new IT rules by UN Special Rapporteurs
The new rules had become necessary due to instances of abuse of social media and digital platforms, India has said
Highlighting that India’s democratic credentials are well recognised, India’s Permanent Mission to United Nations in Geneva on Sunday strongly refuted concerns raised by UN Special Rapporteurs on India’s Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.
Noting that the right to freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed under the Indian Constitution, the Indian Mission said that an independent judiciary and a robust media are part of India's democratic structure.
The mission was responding to a joint communication from the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy.
The Rapporteurs from the Special Procedures Branch of the Human Rights Council had said that the new IT rules do not conform to human rights norms.
According an official Indian statement quoting a letter from the Indian Permanent Mission to UN in Geneva, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting undertook broad consultations in 2018 with various stakeholders.
This included individuals, civil society, industry association and organizations and invited public comments to prepare the draft Rules, the Indian Mission told the UN Council.
Thereafter an inter-ministerial meeting had discussed in detail the comments received in detail and, accordingly, the Rules were finalized, it added.
Discussing the salient features of India’s IT Rules, 2021, Indian Mission said the rules are designed to empower ordinary users of social media.
The victims of abuse at social media platforms shall have a forum for redressal of their grievances, it said drawing attention of the concerned special rapporteurs.
The Indian Permanent Mission to UN in Geneva recalled the enactment of new IT Rules had become necessary due to widespread concerns about issues relating to increased instances of abuse of social media and digital platforms.
Such abuse included inducement for recruitment of terrorists, circulation of obscene content, spread of disharmony, financial frauds, incitement of violence, public order etc. it added.
The Indian Mission to UN in Geneva called the concerns alleging potential implications for freedom of expression that the new IT Rules will entail as highly misplaced.
On the traceability of the first originator of the information, it may be noted that the new IT Rules seeks only limited information, it explained.
Only when a message already in public circulation is giving rise to violence, impinging on the unity and integrity of India, depicting a woman in a bad light, or sexual abuse of a child and when no other intrusive options are working, only then the significant social media intermediary will be required to disclose as to who started the message, clarified the Indian Mission.
The concern that the Rules may be misused deliberately to make a large number of complaints so as to overwhelm the grievance redressal mechanisms created by social media platforms is also misplaced, exaggerated and disingenuous and shows lack of willingness to address the grievances of the users of these media platforms while using their data to earn revenues, it added.
The Government of India fully recognises and respects the right of privacy, as pronounced by the Supreme Court of India in K.S. Puttusamy case, India’s Permanent Mission informed in the letter.
Privacy is the core element of an individual's existence and, in light of this, the new IT Rules seeks information only on a message that is already in circulation that resulted in an offence, it added.
The Rules have framed in exercise of the statutory powers of the IT Act, fully taking into account the principles of reasonableness and proportionality, the Indian High Commission said in the letter.
It may be recalled that the UN Special Rapporteurs had written to Indian government saying that the IT Rules, 2021 notified by India do not confirm to the human rights norms.
In the Mandates of the Special Rapporteurs, they also "recalled" in a report that restrictions to freedom of expression must never be invoked as a justification for the muzzling of any advocacy of multi-party democracy, democratic tenets and human rights.