Govt gets tough: Twitter gets final notice to comply with new rules

By: |
June 06, 2021 4:30 AM

The government has said though the new rules came into force from May 26, “as gesture of goodwill, Twitter Inc is hereby given one last notice to immediately comply with the rules, failing which the exemption from liability available under Section 79 of the IT Act, 2000, shall stand withdrawn and Twitter shall be liable for consequences as per the IT Act and other penal laws of India”.

Even before the new IT rules came into force, the government and Twitter have been at loggerheads over the latter not complying with a direction of removing 'manipulated media' tag from some tweets of BJP leaders on an alleged Congress toolkit used to target the Centre over its Covid-19 handling.Even before the new IT rules came into force, the government and Twitter have been at loggerheads over the latter not complying with a direction of removing 'manipulated media' tag from some tweets of BJP leaders on an alleged Congress toolkit used to target the Centre over its Covid-19 handling.

Hardening its stance, the government on Saturday issued a final notice to microblogging site Twitter, giving it one last chance to comply with the new Information Technology Rules, warning of ‘unintended consequences’ that could lead the company to lose exemption from liability as an intermediary, and action against it under Rule 7 of the new rules.

The government has said though the new rules came into force from May 26, “as gesture of goodwill, Twitter Inc is hereby given one last notice to immediately comply with the rules, failing which the exemption from liability available under Section 79 of the IT Act, 2000, shall stand withdrawn and Twitter shall be liable for consequences as per the IT Act and other penal laws of India”.

In the letter addressed to Twitter’s deputy general counsel Jim Baker, the ministry of electronics and information technology (Meity) also said, “It is clear from responses that till date Twitter has not informed about the details of the chief compliance officer as requested under the Rules. Further, resident grievance officer and nodal contact person nominated by you is not an employee of Twitter Inc in India as prescribed in the Rules. The office address of Twitter Inc as mentioned by you is that of a law firm in India, which is also not as per the Rules.”

The new rules for social media firms, which includes intermediaries, social media intermediaries and significant social media intermediaries, came into force from May 26, following which Meity had asked all firms to submit their compliance. Among other requirements under the new rules, social media firms, depending upon the category they fall under, have to appoint chief compliance officer, grievance officer, nodal contact person, etc. While some other firms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, WhatsApp, Koo, Sharechat, etc, have complied, Twitter has not done so. Twitter has been categorised as a significant social media intermediary.

Meity’s letter sent on Saturday mentions that it has written two similar letters to Twitter in the past — on May 26 and May 28 — seeking compliance of the rules, but did not receive a satisfactory response. “Meity is dismayed to note that your responses to the ministry’s letter neither address the clarifications sought by the ministry nor indicates full compliance with the Rules,” the letter has stated.

Non-compliance with the rules can lead social media firms like Twitter to lose exemption from liability as provided under Section 79 of the IT Act. The consequences of losing such cover and non-compliance of any part of the rules empowers the government to initiate criminal action against the company concerned under Rule 7. This new rule, which is a new insertion, deals with the non-observance of the rules, and states, “Where an intermediary fails to observe these rules, the provisions of sub-section (1) of Section 79 of the Act shall not be applicable to such intermediary and the intermediary shall be liable for punishment under any law for the time being in force, including the provisions of the Act and the Indian Penal Code.”

Even before the new IT rules came into force, the government and Twitter have been at loggerheads over the latter not complying with a direction of removing ‘manipulated media’ tag from some tweets of BJP leaders on an alleged Congress toolkit used to target the Centre over its Covid-19 handling.

Following a visit by the Delhi Police officials to its offices to apparently serve a notice regarding investigation in the matter, Twitter on May 27 through a statement had raised concerns about its compliance officer being made criminally liable for content on the platform, the requirements for proactive monitoring and the blanket authority to seek information about its users. It said this represents dangerous overreach that is inconsistent with open, democratic principles. However, the government strongly rebutted Twitter’s allegations and accused it of undermining the country’s laws that aim at protecting it from criminal liability. The government had also accused Twitter of trying to dictate terms to it.

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