IT Act (Amendment) Rules, 2023

IT Act (Amendment) Rules, 2023

News: The MeitY notified the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules 2023.

 The amendment empowers the Union Government to designate an official fact checker for ‘misinformation’ and ‘fake news’.

What does amendment say on ‘Fake news’?
 The fact checking unit of the Press Information Bureau (PIB) will be notified as the official fact checker for the Union government. This unit has been demystifying whatsapp forwards and news articles on Central government schemes and departments for many years.
 Social media companies or internet service providers will lose the ‘safe harbour’ protection under Section 79A, IT Act When I) a news is notified as fake and social media intermediaries do not take any action or ii) they don’t have a grievance redressal officer for India or iii) don’t address user complaint on time.

What are the pros of these amendments?
 Remove immunity of social media firms if they decide to continue publishing fake news.
 The fact-checking unit to be setup will provide a credible and independent approach as it will possess the required technical, journalistic attributes to verify the information.
 The Freedom of the press guaranteed under Article 19 (1)(a) comes with reasonable restrictions Article 19 (2).

What are cons of these amendments?
 It is against the Shreya Singhal vs Union of India (2015) verdict that provides clear guidelines for blocking content. As following the amendments, the government sets itself as judge, jury and executioner.
 Without a right to appeal or the allowance for judicial oversight, the government cannot sit on judgement whether any information is false or fake.
 The power of appointing a Fact checker in the hands of government can be misused to prevent legitimate questioning or scrutiny by media organisations.
 By threatening to remove platform’s immunity the amendment intends to create a chilling effect on the fundamental right to speech and expression.
 Amendments were notified without consulting stakeholders/their views were not taken into account.

 What can be done is there must be a committee of independent experts and senior journalists to flag fake news content and with a provision of right to appeal.
 The implications of fake news cannot be taken lightly, but a system where government agency has power to take down content should not be at the cost of honest and critical opinions of the government decisions. 

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