Govt told the Delhi High Court that Twitter failed to comply with India's new IT rules and lost immunity granted to intermediaries.

Centre Tells Delhi High Court That Twitter Has Lost Immunity Under IT Rule As It Hasn't Complied With The Law

by Bhaswati Guha Majumder - Jul 6, 2021 02:16 PM +05:30 IST
Centre Tells Delhi High Court That Twitter Has Lost Immunity Under IT Rule As It Hasn't Complied With The LawTwitter
  • In spite of the three months' time granted to all significant social media intermediaries to comply with the IT Rules 2021 by 26 May 2021, Twitter Inc. has failed to fully comply with the same, says IT Ministry.

The central government told the Delhi High Court on 5 July that Twitter has failed to meet the requirements of India's new rules for digital companies and thus lost the immunity granted to intermediaries. This was due to Twitter's failure to comply with the updated IT Intermediary Guidelines that went into effect on 26 May, according to an affidavit filed with the court by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).

As reported, despite the government ordering all major social media companies three months to comply, Twitter has failed to do so. According to the centre: "Any non-compliance amounts to a breach of the provisions of the IT Rules, 2021 thereby leading to Respondent No. 2 (Twitter) losing its immunity conferred under section 79(1) of the IT Act, 2000". Intermediaries are immune from liability under Section 79 of the IT Act for information or data posted by third parties on their platforms. As per the centre's response to a petition filed in the Delhi HC, Twitter has failed to designate a chief compliance officer, while the positions for resident grievance officer and the nodal contact person have not been filled even on an interim basis. Additionally, the government said that Twitter had also removed its physical contact address from its website, which is required under the amended IT rules. This information has previously been shown on the social media company's website.

However, Twitter informed the Delhi HC on 3 July that it was in the final stages of appointing a resident grievance officer after its interim appointee withdrew his candidacy on 21 June—who was appointed on 29 May. The microblogging platform based in the United States also stated that it was in the process of hiring a chief compliance officer. According to the company, which has over 18 million users in India, since it is a corporation registered in the United States of America, the company asserted that the plea was not maintainable under Article 226 of the Constitution—it empowers the HCs to issue, to any person or authority, orders, directions, and writs like Habeas corpus, Mandamus, Certiorari, Prohibition and Quo Warranto throughout the country's territory.

According to MeitY's statement, Twitter was admittedly an "intermediary" within the sense of Section 2(1)(w) of the IT Act and a significant social media intermediary (SSMI) "under the IT Rules 2021". The ministry also said that "in spite of the three months' time granted to all SSMIs to comply with the IT Rules 2021 having expired on 26 May 2021, Respondent No. 2 (Twitter Inc.) has failed to fully comply with the same". Meanwhile, Twitter announced that user complaints in India would be handled by a grievance officer, whose contact information could be found on the company's website. But according to the government's evidence to the court, because the employee is based in the United States, this also amounts to non-compliance with the IT Rules.

A single-judge bench of Justice Rekha Palli issued notices to the government and Twitter on 31 May in response to a plea filed by Amit Acharya, a practising advocate in the Delhi HC and Supreme Court, against "objectionable tweets" made by Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra and journalist Swati Chaturvedi. The petitioner claimed that he couldn't find the contact information for Twitter's resident grievance officer on the company's website, implying that the microblogging platform violated the new IT Rules. In response, the microblogging platform said in its court filings that it acknowledged receiving the complaint within 24 hours and resolved the issue within 15 days, as required by the IT Rules. However, since failing to designate the three personnel — for grievance, nodal, and compliance — within the time frame set by the centre to comply with the new IT Rules, this case is one of many that have been launched against the American social media platform.

Several petitions accused Twitter of a variety of offences, including displaying an incorrect map of India and allowed child pornography on its website. Since it categorised numerous tweets by key BJP politicians as "manipulated media," the government has been at differences with Twitter, prompting the government to send the firm a strongly worded letter urging it to remove the tags. But Twitter has yet to respond to the request, claiming that it did so in accordance with its global policy. The Ghaziabad police have also summoned the American company for its role in publicising a video that allegedly portrayed an attack on an elderly Muslim man as a hate crime.

However, the government has asked Twitter for a detailed explanation as to why IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad's handle and Congress MP Shashi Tharoor's account were temporarily disabled. In response, the social media company explained: "Twitter received Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notices from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) alleging that video Tweets posted on their (Prasad and Tharoor) accounts infringed copyrighted works owned by Sony Music Entertainment. For IT Minister Prasad, the DMCA notice was in reference to the original work (i.e. alleged infringement) of A.R. Rahman's: Maa Tujhe Salaam... For Dr Tharoor, the DMCA notice was in reference to the original work (i.e. alleged infringement) of Boney M - Rasputin".

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