The government is reviewing the 'safe harbour' clause that absolves social media platforms of liability for users' posts as it prepares a new Digital India Bill to replace the decades-old Information Technology Act, Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar has said, according to The Hindu newspaper.
The 'safe harbour' principle in the IT Act, 2000, says "intermediaries" on the internet are not responsible for what third parties post on their website.
But now, as part of an overhaul of digital laws, the government is reconsidering the principle, Mr Chandrasekhar, the Minister of State for Electronics and IT, said at a presentation in Bengaluru on Thursday.
In 2021, the government brought in the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules that require platforms to take down posts when asked to do so by the government or when the law requires it.
In other words, The safe harbour protection is "earned", the government had said, subject to the platform doing its bit to keep the internet safe and trusted by making sure that the content that is flagged as "causing user harm" is no longer hosted on it.
"From the 2000s onward, platforms for which safe harbour was applied as a concept, have now morphed into multiple types of participants and platforms on the internet, functionally very different from each other, and requiring different types of guardrails and regulatory requirements," the Hindu quoted the minister as saying.
"The draft of the Digital India Act will be firmed up after two more rounds of discussion," Mr Chandrasekhar said during a consultation with the stakeholders.
The draft bill is likely to be issued in April and it will be followed up with more rounds of public consultation for about 45-60 days before being placed in parliament for final approval, officials said. Based on the timelines for consultation, the draft bill is likely to be placed before parliament in July.
In what was the minister's first consultation on the planned Digital India Act, he also discussed rules to handle data captured by invasive gadgets like spy glasses and wearable devices.
Mr Chandrasekhar said legislation has to be in place for the next 10 years to catalyse the innovation ecosystem, protect consumers, be future-proof and future-ready.
"At a time when technology is disrupting so rapidly. There is AI (Artificial Intelligence). There is AI compute, blockchain, there are all types of big disruptive changes underway. That is a time that this legislation has been brought. So this legislation has to be future-ready and it has to be future-proof," he said.