Social media companies plan to challenge any changes to the law brought by the government to tighten the mediation guidelines. The changes will reduce the immunity offered by companies like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp and over-the-top players like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, etc. under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act to host third party content and data. In such situations, such companies may face higher legal risks.
Official sources indicated earlier this week that a new Digital India Act is in progress.
Executives at these agencies say that although the final decision will depend on the outline of the new law, one thing is for sure, it will lead to an increase in lawsuits because the current provisions are not sufficiently rigid and qualified to be more stringent. While the legal fraternity acknowledges that there should be a measure of accountability on the part of social media organizations, it also maintains that regulations should be a light touch.
Last year, the government amended the law by tightening sections like Section 69A of the IT Act. Social media agencies have been asked to appoint grievance redressal officers in the country and resolve consumer grievances within a specified period, as well as nodal officers nominated to coordinate with the government on law and order matters.
The agencies maintain that these changes are strict enough to address the concerns of the government and if they comply then why should they take more drastic measures.
Under the changes introduced last year, if social media companies failed to comply with a provision, their executives could face criminal liability and a maximum of seven years in prison, a provision that did not exist before.
Not surprisingly, legal experts are also warning the government against overkill.
Ruby Singh Ahuja, a senior partner at Karanjawala & Company, said, “The validity of Section 79 of the IT Act, often referred to as the provision of safe haven, was upheld by the Supreme Court in the 2015 Shreya Singhal case.” “Any erosion of the safe harbor provisions would not only be a direct violation of the law enacted by the SC, but would also be inconsistent with existing law in the western part of the world,” he added.
Echoing a similar view, Manjul Bajpayee, a lawyer specializing in the telecom sector, said, “With perfect balance and without compromising the security of the country, intermediaries should be given enough freedom to grow in the world of technology. Even the courts are now recognizing WhatsApp for giving notice to the parties in any case. “
Mishi Chowdhury, technology lawyer and founder, SFLC.in, is also in favor of a balance and light touch control and going against extra killing. “In India, due to unexpected, extra rules, businesses are on flights to Singapore, Dubai. We need light-handed regulations that put people at the center,” he said.
Cyber law expert Pawan Duggal, while maintaining that social media agencies need to be more accountable, also pointed out that the process should be slow rather than sudden. “India needs to come up with more effective and efficient measures to make social media companies more accountable. There is a global trend that says blankets should not be waived from liability. But it is a slow process to make these companies more accountable, it will not happen overnight, ”he said.
A balanced and one-size-fits-all approach has also been recommended by Prashant Phillips, Partners, Laxmikumaran and Sridharan Attorneys. “A balanced approach may have to be adopted that integrates itself with the nature of the mediator and the functions that such a mediator provides rather than being compressed under a universal classification,” he said.
Abhishek A Rastogi, a partner at Khaitan & Company, disagreed. He says many of these companies’ personal information is confidential and leaking such information could lead to serious financial fraud. Therefore, strict guidelines will prevent such frauds and customers / users will feel more comfortable using these platforms once they are comfortable with the safety rules. “While these companies may face somewhat more legal risks, in the long run, their businesses will end up profiting because customers will feel more comfortable using these platforms,” he added.