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Govt writes to social media companies seeking compliance status for new IT rules

India’s information technology ministry on Wednesday wrote to social media companies asking them details about their compliance status with the country’s new social media rules. The deadline to comply with the rules was Tuesday, May 25. 

The letter was addressed to all “significant social media intermediaries”, which basically means social media companies having more than 5 million registered users in India and encompasses all major tech companies including Facebook, Twitter, Google, and WhatsApp, among others. 

Entrackr has seen a copy of the letter and its authenticity was confirmed by a senior government official and a tech company that received it. 

Apart from seeking the compliance status with the new rules, the letter sought details like the contact information of the companies’ chief compliance officer, nodal contact person and resident grievance officer. It also sought companies’ physical contact addresses in India. 

The IT Rules 2021, notified in February, require social media companies to appoint a compliance officer, who is responsible for ensuring their compliance with the Information Technology Act. Companies are also required to appoint a nodal contact person for 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies. The resident grievance officer is supposed to act on complaints about any violation of the rules by these companies. 

“If you are not considered as SSMI [significant social media intermediary], please provide the reasons for the same including the registered users on each of the services provided by you,” the letter said. 

The government has asked the companies to respond to the letter “preferably by today [May 26] itself”. 

However, a senior government official told Entrackr on the condition of anonymity that there is no hard deadline as such to respond to the letter since “companies can not possibly appoint compliance, nodal or grievance officers overnight, and the government does not want to be unnecessarily anti-business”. “We’re just nudging them towards compliance as soon as possible,” the official added. 

Non-compliance with the rules will result in the companies losing their “intermediary” status, which takes away safe harbour protection available to social media companies and opens them up to increased litigation. 

A Facebook spokesperson said that the company “aim[s]” to comply with the provisions of the IT rules and “continue[s] to discuss a few of the issues which need more engagement with the government”. “Pursuant to the IT Rules, we are working to implement operational processes and improve efficiencies,” the spokesperson said. 

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment when asked about the company’s compliance status with the new social media rules. Homegrown microblogging platform and Twitter’s chief rival Koo, however, said that it has complied with the rules and implemented a due diligence and grievance redressal mechanism supported by an Indian resident chief compliance officer, nodal officer and grievance officer. 

When asked about Google and YouTube’s compliance status, a Google spokesperson did not clearly specify whether the two companies were compliant with the rules and said that they have “consistently invested in significant product changes, resources, and personnel to ensure that we’re combating illegal content in an effective and fair way”. 

The letter comes a day after Facebook-owned WhatsApp, the most popular personal messaging application in the country, and a significant social media intermediary, sued the Indian government over the new social media rules claiming that they could potentially force the company to break its end-to-end encryption security, making personal messaging on the platform less safe for users across the world.

In response to WhatsApp’s lawsuit, information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that “none of the measures proposed by India will impact the normal functioning of WhatsApp in any manner whatsoever and for the common users, there will be no impact”. 

“The government of India is committed to ensure the right of privacy to all its citizens but at the same time it is also the responsibility of the government to maintain law and order and ensure national security,” he added.

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