Grievance Appellate Committee

Context:  The Grievance Appellate Committees (GACs) set up by the government to look into users’ complaints against large social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram will commence operation from March 1, said the Ministry of Electronics and IT.

About the News

  • The government has established three Grievance Appellate Committees based on the recently amended Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021) to look into users’ complaints against internet intermediaries.
  • The notification to this effect has been published. As per the notification, three Grievance Appellate Committees (GACs) have been constituted with three members each.  
  • The IT rules 2021 provide for creating avenues for grievance redressal apart from Courts and ensure that the Constitutional rights of Indian citizens are not contravened by any Big-tech Platform by ensuring new accountability standards for SSMIs.

Need for GAC

  • The Grievance Appellate Committee (GAC) is a critical piece of overall policy and legal framework to ensure that Internet in India is Open, Safe & Trusted and Accountable.
  • The need for GAC was created due to large numbers 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.

About GAC

  • The GAC will be a virtual Digital platform that will operate only online and digitally – wherein the entire appeal process, from filing of appeal to the decision thereof, shall be conducted digitally.
  • Users will have the option to appeal against decision of the grievance officer of the social media intermediaries and other online intermediaries before this new appellate body.
  • The Committee will endeavour to address the user’s appeal within a period of 30 days.

Composition of the GAC

  • Each of the three GACs will have a chairperson, two whole-time members from various 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. Retired Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Ashutosh Shukla and Punjab National Bank’s (PNB) former chief general manager and chief information officer Sunil Soni have been appointed as the whole-time members of the panel.
  • 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.
  • The third panel will be chaired by Kavita Bhatia, a senior scientist at the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.
  • Former traffic service officer of the Indian Railways Sanjay Goel and former managing director and chief executive officer of IDBI Intech Krishnagiri Ragothamarao have been appointed as the whole-time members of the third panel.

What are Significant Social Media Intermediary

  • The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 were released via a notification dating 25th February 2021. It introduced the concept of SSMIs – Significant Social Media Intermediaries.
  • Rule 2(1)(w) of the IT Rules 2021 define a “social media intermediary” as “an intermediary which primarily or solely enables online interaction between two or more users and allows them to create, upload, share, disseminate, modify or access information using its services.”
  • Social media intermediaries with more than 50,00,000 registered users in India fall in the category of being classified as SSMIs and are thus mandated to meet the additional due diligence requirements.
  • Mandatory Appointments under Rule 4:
    • A Chief Compliance Officer
    • A Nodal Contact Officer who should be available round the clock
    • A Resident Grievance Officer
  • Grievance Redressal Mechanism: The guidelines have instructed social media platforms to have a grievance redressal mechanism so that any content that is shared and if it is violative of public order or is not regulatory, a complaint of the same can be registered with the Grievance Redressal Officer.
  • This officer is mandated to acknowledge the complaint made, within a time span of 24 hours and provide a resolution for it within a 15 days’ time slot. In those cases which are directly related to crimes against women, the mandate is that the complaint should be resolved within 24 hours
  • These compliance related regulations/procedures/mandates are to be strictly followed by SSMI’s in order to avoid losing the ‘safe harbour’ protection that is offered to them under Section 79 of the IT Act 2000

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