WhatsApp moves Delhi High Court against government's new digital rules
New Delhi, May 26: WhatsApp has moved Delhi against the Indian government seeking to block regulations coming into force on Wednesday.
The lawsuit, described to Reuters by people familiar with it, asks the Delhi High Court to declare that one of the new rules is a violation of privacy rights in India's constitution since it requires social media companies to identify the "first originator of information" when authorities demand it.
The new rules were announced in February which requires large social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp to follow additional due diligence, including the appointment of a chief compliance officer, nodal contact person and resident grievance officer.
Appointment of a grievance officer would be a key requirement from day-one of rules coming into effect, given the importance of public interface for complaints, and need for an acknowledgement system for requests.
Non-compliance with rules would result in these social media companies losing their intermediary status that provides them exemptions from liabilities for any third-party information and data hosted by them.
Provisions around voluntary verification, 24-hour timeline to remove content flagged for nudity etc and setting up a process and time bound grievance redressal mechanism has been put in place, while meeting requirements like generation of monthly compliance reports and appointment of chief compliance officer, nodal contact person and resident grievance officer is underway.
On February 25, the government had announced tighter regulations for social media firms, requiring them to remove any content flagged by authorities within 36 hours and setting up a robust complaint redressal mechanism with an officer being based in the country.
The government had set 50 lakh registered users as the threshold for defining ''significant social media intermediary'', meaning that large players like Twitter, Facebook and Google would have to comply with additional norms.
Announcing the guidelines in February, it had said the new rules take effect immediately, while significant social media providers (based on number of users) will get three months before they need to start complying.
The three-month time period meant compliance by May 25.
Significant social media companies will also have to publish a monthly compliance report disclosing details of complaints received and action taken, as also details of contents removed proactively. They will also be required to have a physical contact address in India published on its website or mobile app, or both.
As per data cited by the government, India has 53 crore WhatsApp users, 44.8 crore YouTube users, 41 crore Facebook subscribers, 21 crore Instagram clients, while 1.75 crore account holders are on microblogging platform Twitter.
The new rules were introduced to make social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram - which have seen a phenomenal surge in usage over the past few years in India - more accountable and responsible for the content hosted on their platform.
Social media companies will have to take down posts depicting nudity or morphed photos within 24 hours of receiving a complaint.
Notably, the rules require significant social media intermediaries - providing services primarily in the nature of messaging - to enable identification of the "first originator" of the information that undermines sovereignty of India, security of the state, or public order.
The intermediary, however, will not be required to disclose the contents of any message. This could have major ramifications for players like Twitter and WhatsApp.
The rules also state that users who voluntarily want to verify their accounts should be given an appropriate mechanism to do so, and be accorded a visible mark of verification.
Users will have to be provided with a prior intimation and explanation when a significant social media intermediary removes content on its own. In such cases, users have to be provided an adequate and reasonable opportunity to dispute the action taken by the intermediary.