Government to unveil new rules to regulate Facebook, Twitter

Government to unveil new rules to regulate Facebook, Twitter

The Prime Minister's Office is pushing for a multi-pronged strategy to 'prevent and contain malicious use of internet and social media', indicating the government's seriousness in regulating the cyberspace.

At an August 27 meeting in the PMO, attended by heads of all intelligence agencies, as well as representatives from the ministries of home, telecom and IT, the government decided to set up an 'appropriate regime' that will address issues related to blocking content on the internet and social media in a 'smart, timely and consistent manner'.

According to the minutes of the meeting, reviewed by ET, the new regime will work out an effective cyber monitoring system, lay out guidelines and operating procedures on the nature of online content that will be blocked, and specify penalties for perpetrators.

It will also have a legal arm that will fill up existing gaps in the IT Act for dealing with such situations, including deterring malicious use of the internet and social media.

The ministries of home and information technology have been directed to work out the structure and the mandate of the new regime.

The need for a 'legal and administrative regime' to prevent malicious use of the internet was felt last month after rumours spread through mobile phone text messages and on social networking sites fuelled panic among migrants from the Northeastern states.

To quell the rumours, the government had to issue four separate orders to block about 20 Twitter accounts and nearly 310 other items online, including entire websites, YouTube videos and Facebook pages.

The meeting in the PMO came just days after the government failed to block Twitter in select regions of the country.

The home ministry had asked internet service providers and telcos on August 23 to block Twitter in Kerala, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh after thousands of people from the northeast began fleeing cities such as Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, Chennai and Mysore fearing attacks. But this was not implemented after telcos said they did not have technology to bar websites on a state-by-state basis.

Under the new policy, the Centre will unveil public guidelines to spell out its responses to such situations in the future.

"This will introduce predictability with regard to what kind of content is liable to be regulated and for how long, the structure and process of such regulation, proactive dissemination of information to counter false propaganda, as well as a system of graded response and graded penalty to perpetrators," the minutes of the meet said.

It also aims to provide adequate communication to ISPs and telcos before blocking of content.

"These would be written appropriately into a set of standard operating procedures," the minutes added.

This will help address complaints from telcos and ISPs that customers often vent their rage at service providers on finding content or websites blocked as per government's orders. Operators have also sought that the government put out such directives in public domain to prevent consumers from assuming that their service provider was censoring online content.

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