Will Strict Regulations Be A Setback For WhatsApp In India? In response to a question in the Lok Sabha, MeitY said it is amending its Information Technology Rules, 2011 where social media companies will be mandated to trace the originator of fake news

By Shreya Ganguly

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Troubles for social media companies refuse to boil down in India. Facebook-owned WhatsApp, which has been locking horns with the Indian government over tracing fake news, has once again fueled the issues with Pegasus spyware controversy. In response to a question in the Lok Sabha, the ministry of electronics & information technology (MeitY) said it is amending its Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 wherein social media companies will be mandated to trace the originator of fake news.

In a written response, the ministry said, "WhatsApp is intermediary within the definition of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000. Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY) had proposed to amend Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 notified under section 79 of the IT Act, 2000.The proposed amendments, inter alia, included intermediaries to enable traceability of the originator of the information which is expected to curb circulation of rogue messages."

This response comes in right after it was reported that Sanjay Dhotre, minister of state for IT, told the Rajya Sabha that social media companies will have to take down malicious content within 24 hours of receiving a court order, or notification from the government, as a part of the amendments. Apart from this, the proposed amendments will also mandate the companies to inform their users about compliance of rules, following users' agreement and privacy policy.

According to the answers submitted in the Lok Sabha, Meity also clarified that there are no proposals to link Aadhaar with social media accounts.

Related Story: Will Tracing The Originator Of Fake News Posts On Social Media Be Made Mandatory in India

Amendments To Draft Intermediaries Guidelines

MeitY had proposed amendments to India's IT Act in December 2018 which state that companies with over 50 lakh users need to have an office in India and appoint a nodal officer to work with law enforcement agencies.

According to the amendments, Internet companies need to deploy technology-based automated tools to identify and take down unlawful content. Following this, Internet companies are required to trace the originator of such content and share the information with government authorities within 72 hours.

For the uninitiated, the IT Act, 2000 was enacted to boost online payment, provide legal recognition for e-commerce and e-transactions, facilitate e-governance and prevent computer-based crimes. The IT Act also ensures security practices and procedures. Section 79 of the IT Act focuses on an exemption from liabilities of intermediaries in certain cases.

Pegasus Controversy Fueled Localization Debate

According to recent media reports, the central government is planning to cite WhatsApp Pegasus controversy to push its data localization mandate which required all Internet companies to store data of Indian users in local servers.

Citing officials, media reports said if WhatsApp data was stored locally in India then the administration could have carried out its own investigation in the spyware case.

Shreya Ganguly

Former Features Writer

Covering startups and investments for Entrepreneur India. Previously a startup correspondent at Inc42. Reach out to me with interesting story ideas at sganguly@entrepreneurindia.com. 

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