Mumbai. 25 June 2022. Social media has become an important part of one’s life. The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 released by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) aim to empower ordinary users of social media platforms and OTT platforms.  

The specific clause in new IT rules imposes a personal criminal liability on the chief compliance officer of social media. This provision needs to be re-considered in the interest of “ease of doing business” as well as better “enforcement of laws”. This would enhance legal risks for employees of entities covered by the IT Rules 2021. This should be substituted with an appropriate provision on personal liability as this affects employee morale and confidence. Government should publish the standard operating procedures for provisions for safeguarding the employees in this regard. 

Ease of Doing Business (EoDB) and Unclogging the Justice System by De-Criminalization of Certain Laws is on the radar of government for a long time. There is an increased traction by corporate in jurisprudence towards replacing criminal liability with monetary penalties. Due to the fear of criminal prosecution, the pivotal players of a growing economy are hesitant to make financial decisions. It is necessary that timely and in sync with the need for restoring confidence of trade and industry some bold steps should be taken. These steps should surmount any fear of being penalized for small/bonafide mistakes (which are rectified). This is the immediate need of time.  

Globally, governments are trying to address the issue of misinformation and disinformation. No country is threatening private company employees with criminal liability for user generated content. 

In the view of pandemic government should consider up to a one-year compliance window as intermediaries may find it extremely arduous for configuring their operations with the obligations imposed on them. Obligations pertaining to new frameworks governing the requests for information from the government, new avenues for blocking of content and grievance handling of users require capacity building to a large extent.