The government has formed three grievance appellate committees (GACs) with three members each to look into the complaints of users of social media firms like Twitter, Facebook and other such platforms. The online platform where the users can file their grievances will be operational from March 1, keeping in view the transition period and other technical requirements of the intermediaries, the ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY) said.
The notification comes three months after the government tweaked the IT rules for setting up such GACs. These committees will address complaints by users relating to blocking of content or accounts by the grievance redressal officers of the social media firms concerned, within a period of thirty days of receiving them.
“The need for GAC was created due to large number of grievances being left unaddressed or unsatisfactorily addressed by internet intermediaries. GAC is expected to create a culture of responsiveness amongst all internet platforms and intermediaries towards their consumers,” MeitY said in a release.
As per the framework, each of the three GACs will have a chairperson, two whole-time members from different government entities and retired senior executives from the industry for a term of three years from the date of assumption of office.
The first panel will be chaired by the chief executive officer of the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre under the ministry of home affairs. The whole-time members in the panel include Ashutosh Shukla, a retired Indian Police Service officer and Sunil Soni, former chief general manager and chief information officer of Punjab National Bank.
The second panel will be chaired by the joint secretary in charge of the Policy and Administration Division in the ministry of information and broadcasting. It will include Sunil Kumar Gupta, retired former director of Personnel services at Indian Navy and Kavindra Sharma, former vice-president of consulting at L&T Infotech.
The third panel will be chaired by Kavita Bhatia, a senior scientist at the ministry of electronics and information technology. Sanjay Goel, former traffic service officer of the Indian Railways, and Krishnagiri Ragothamarao, former managing director and chief executive officer of IDBI Intech, have been appointed as the whole-time members of the panel.
The government had first talked about constituting GACs in June last year but had said that if the industry came up with a self-regulating mechanism, then it was willing to consider that instead. However, the industry’s initiative for a self-regulating mechanism failed due to lack of unanimity amongst all the players.
Some of the concerns raised by the experts on the GACs structure include the presence of government officials in the GAC working group, possibility of censoring of speech and freedom of speech threat, compliance over-burden on intermediaries, and absence of rules regarding proceedings of GACs.
As per the new IT rules, a social media company will have to remove any misinformation and illegal content which is obscene, pornographic, invades another’s privacy, insulting or harassing on the basis of gender, racially or ethnically objectionable, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, among others, within 72 hours of receiving the complaint.
Last year, the minister of information technology and electronics Rajeev Chandrasekhar also warned the companies of losing access to their safe harbor status on not complying with the IT rules. Currently, under Section 79 of IT Act 2000, intermediaries are protected from any legal prosecution related to content on their platforms. If they lose the safe harbor status, they will lose that legal immunity for the content posted on their platforms.