The conundrum between Twitter and the Centre over the new IT rules that came into force on May 26 is getting complicated as the micro-blogging site's stance and hearing on a related lawsuit goes forward.
The new digitals rules haven't exactly gone down well with social media outlets with several of them raising apprehensions over privacy and freedom of expression. Yet, large firms such as Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, etc. with a huge stake in India have complied with the rules, fully or partially, while Twitter remains an exception.
What has Twitter said?
Twitter had earlier said, “To keep our service available, we will strive to comply with applicable law in India.” The microblogging site added that they will continue to be strictly guided by principles of transparency, a commitment to empowering every voice, and protecting freedom of expression and privacy.
On May 27, Twitter issued a strongly worded statement, saying, “We, alongside many in civil society in India and around the world, have concerns with regards to the use of intimidation tactics by the police in response to enforcement of our global Terms of Service, as well as with core elements of the new IT Rules.”
The social media platform also expressed concern over the safety of its employees in India. The statement came days after the police “raided” Twitter’s offices in Delhi and Gurugram in connection with the alleged ‘Congress toolkit’ case.
What has the government said?
The government has called Twitter’s allegations "totally baseless, false, and an attempt to defame India." The Delhi Police, on the other hand, said the statement was "mendacious" and designed to impede a lawful inquiry.
This comes as Twitter had marked several tweets by ruling BJP leaders on an alleged strategy document of Opposition to target the government over COVID-19 as containing 'manipulated media.' According to Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Twitter was sent notices regarding the alleged cases but it failed to reply following which the police visited its offices late on May 24.
The big picture
The new IT rules were notified on February 25 and big social media firms were given three months’ time to set up a grievance redressal system. The rules require the firms to appoint a chief compliance officer, nodal contact person, and resident grievance officer. Most big social firms have sent the contact details of the appointed officers to the government.
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Twitter has not sent the information about the chief compliance officer to the IT Ministry. It has instead shared details of a lawyer working in a law firm as a nodal contact person and grievance officer, sources cited by news agency PTI said. This when the IT rules clearly require these designated officers of the significant social media platforms to be employees of the company and residents in India, they pointed out.
Several social media platforms, including Twitter and WhatsApp, have also red-flagged privacy concerns as the new IT rules their them to identify within 36 hours the originator of a flagged message. The messaging platform says the move would break its end-to-end encryption policy, and also undermine people's right to privacy. WhatsApp has moved the Delhi High Court over the same.
The government, however, argues that the originator of the message only needs to be identified only in case when the message is required for prevention, investigation, or punishment of very serious offenses.
If large social media firms fail to comply with the rules, they may be ripped off their intermediary status and be liable for criminal action in case of complaints. It is, however, not yet clear what the action could exactly be because, despite non-compliance, the platforms are functioning just as usual.
Twitter is likely to file an affidavit explaining its actions. As the case is being heard, the microblogging site didn't share details in the court.
(Edited by: By Ajay Vaishnav)
First Published: IST