Quarterly compliance audit soon for social media firms

The government plans to conduct quarterly reviews of significant social media intermediaries (SSMIs) and internet companies to assess their compliance with the Information Technology Rules, 2021, a senior official told ET.

The assessment, to be conducted by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology from September, will check compliance on various parameters including the number of grievances received by intermediaries, the number of complaints received and resolved by the resident chief compliance officer, among others.

“The idea of the audit is to ensure that the intermediaries, whether they are significant social media intermediaries or not, are adhering to the IT Rules in letter and spirit. That is why we will now also conduct quarterly audits,” the official added.

Currently, the IT ministry does not conduct any audit of compliance of the various orders passed under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act or otherwise.

It does, however, meet senior officials from significant and non-significant social media intermediaries every fortnight to assess the compliance of emergency orders.

The quarterly audits will be conducted in addition to these meetings and the monthly compliance report that the companies must file.

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According to the IT Rules of 2021, every social media intermediary, must, in a clear and legible report, disclose the number of user grievances received by them, the various categories of complaints received, and the action taken.

The move to institute quarterly reviews comes even as the IT ministry is in the final stages of releasing a revised version of the intermediary guidelines, which were first put out in February 2021.

ET has reported previously that global Big Tech giants such as Google, Meta, and Twitter were in the final stages of recommending a self-regulatory body to the IT ministry, which could comprise a panel headed by either a retired chief justice or a judge of the Supreme Court or one of the high courts.

Other members are likely to be drawn from the ranks of the industry, independent technology policy experts and one or two members appointed by the government.

On the other hand, the IT ministry has proposed its own social media grievance appellate committee. Sources said the government intends to keep executives from the industry out of this committee.

IT ministry had in June completed public consultations with industry experts, lawyers and representatives of social media intermediaries on proposed changes to the IT Rules. It had asked all stakeholders to submit comments on amendments by July 6.

Senior officials said the IT ministry had received close to 100 suggestions, some of which it is studying in detail with the help of external subject matter and legal experts.

Other changes proposed include compressing the time given to social media intermediaries to respond to user grievances to 72 hours from 96 hours earlier.

The draft has also suggested that the intermediaries must be asked to share a greater burden for content moderation on their platform, apart from setting up of an appellate tribunal.

The draft had also said that “all online intermediaries providing services in India shall never contravene the Indian Constitution, Laws and Rules, and follow them in letter and spirit”.

Minister of State for Information Technology, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who had presided over the open house consultation held on June 23, had said that the government’s perspective, with respect to the changes in IT Rules of 2021, was to ensure four basic principles of openness of the internet, safety and trust online, accountability from social media intermediaries and complete compliance to the Indian Constitution and legal provisions.

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