The Centre on Monday informed the Supreme Court that the entire process of finalising the laws on regulating social media will be completed by January 2020, while seeking three months more time for notifying the final revised rules in accordance with law. The government told the top court that after collating and analysing all the details that have emerged from stakeholders participation and inter-ministerial consultations, the government has bonafide belief that a further period of three months would be required for finalising and notifying the final revised rules in accordance with law.
In an affidavit, the government submitted that the Electronics and IT Ministry has drafted the Information Technology Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules 2018, and published the entire draft for public comments on its website on December 24, 2018, requesting suggestions and objections from concerned stakeholders and the public.
The government also said that various rounds of industry consultations and discussions involving various chambers of commerce, associations and social media companies have already taken place.
Moreover, inter-ministerial consultations were also initiated and undertaken to seek the views of other ministries, including Home Affairs, Information and Broadcasting, Health, Women and Child Development, and Commerce on the draft revised rules.
The updated draft rules are under discussion and as it has to be vetted by the Law and Justice Ministry, the entire process will be completed by January 2020.
The government also informed the apex court that, in the last few years, there has been an enormous increase in the use of social media and with lower Internet tariffs, smart devices and last-mile connectivity, more and more people in India are becoming part of the Internet and social media platforms.
While appreciative of technology for ushering in economic growth and societal development, the government also raised concerns over the exponential rise in hate speech, fake news, threat to public order, anti-national activities, defamatory postings, and other unlawful activities in these platforms.
"Internet has emerged as a potent tool to cause unimaginable disruption to the democratic polity, it was felt that the extant rules be revised for effective regulation of intermediaries keeping in view the ever growing threats to individual rights and nation's integrity, sovereignty, and security," the Information Technology (IT) Ministry said in an affidavit.
The told the court that on July 26, 2018, while replying to a Calling Attention Motion on "Misuse of social media platform and propagation of fake news" the IT Minister made a statement in the Rajya Sabha that the government will initiate a number of measures, including amendment in the existing Intermediaries Guidelines Rules 2011, to make intermediaries more liable towards the content that is published and transmitted on their platform.
The response came after the top court on September 24 asked the Centre to file an affidavit within three weeks detailing the timeline for finalising the draft rules framed for regulating social media.
The apex court has expressed its concerns over issues like trolling, character assassination, spreading lies and fake news during the hearing of a Facebook plea seeking transfer of various petitions from different High Courts to the Supreme Court.
Facebook has said that the transfer of cases would serve the interests of justice by avoiding the possibility of conflicting decisions from the High Courts. Facebook told the apex court that two petitions had been filed in the Madras High Court and one each in the Bombay and Madhya Pradesh High Courts.
All the pleas in the three High Courts have sought a direction that Aadhaar or any other government-authorised identity proof should be made mandatory to authenticate social media accounts.