The new Information Technology Rules, 2021, are consistent with the right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to privacy, the Centre said in a set of frequently asked questions about the guidelines on Monday.

The rules, which were introduced in February and came into effect in May, constitute a set of sweeping regulations for social media companies, streaming and digital news content, virtually bringing them under the ambit of government supervision for the first time.

In its document released on Monday, the Ministry of Electronics and Information and Technology said the new IT Rules are intended to empower users in the online space and protect their dignity and rights.

“The Rules, by providing reasonable mechanisms and remedies, strive to ensure that social media platforms remain a safe space for all users, free from cyber threats, harassment and unlawful content,” the ministry said.

The government said that the new rules are clearly focused on online privacy.

“Intermediaries [such as social media platforms] are required to convey to users that they should not share information that is invasive of another person’s privacy,” it added. “Intermediaries are required to periodically inform users that in case of non-compliance with their privacy policies, the intermediary has the right to terminate access or block such information.”

The ministry added that the rules ensure that the intermediaries are accountable to users.

It also added that the new rules require a grievance redressal mechanism to be set up by intermediaries, which included appointing a resident grievance officer to ensure that “intermediaries are responsive to the concerns and grievances of users”.

The government said that under the new rules, intermediaries will also send reminders to users not to post content that may be illegal or harmful to others users. This includes content that is “paedophilic, pornographic, defamatory and obscene”.

The document said that rules also adhered to the right to freedom of speech and expression.

“The Rules place no additional obligations on users and do not contain any sort of penalties applicable on users. Further, a robust grievance redressal mechanism has been put in place to ensure that users whose content or access is unreasonably removed may highlight such error to the intermediary for remedial action.”

— The FAQs

The guidelines require social media platforms to set up a three-tier framework for redressing grievances. The platforms will also have to provide details about the origin of a tweet or a message on being asked by either a court or a government authority.

For digital news media and video streaming platforms, a self-regulatory body and an inter-departmental committee have been provided with wide-ranging punitive powers to “warn/censure/admonish/reprimand the publisher” or even censor content as they deem fit.

Several media outlets have challenged the new rules in courts. They have argued that the guidelines will allow the government to directly control their content.