On 25th February the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 was notified by the central government under IT Act 2000 for all the social media platforms with a user base of more than 50 lakh in the country, to comply with its rules. Under the new guidelines issued by the government, a significant social media intermediary providing services primarily in the nature of messaging shall enable the identification of the first originator of the information on its computer resource as may be required by judicial order.
The centre provided a three-month compliance window that ended on May 25th. The guidelines specifically expressed that non-compliance may result in loss of intermediary status along with criminal prosecution by virtue of provisions of IT Act, 2000 and the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
The Ministry of Information Technology and Electronics proposed a set of IT regulations to be complied with by Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp and Twitter. The companies like Google and Facebook have shared their details with the ministry as per the new IT regulations released earlier. However, Twitter has not yet complied with the IT regulations.
The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) claims that the proposed rules are violative of privacy and freedom of right to speech and expression and hence many writ petitions have been initiated. However, the objective of the guidelines is to protect the first source of information and to evaluate any illegal contents. It is also said that the loss of intermediary status makes the users criminally liable for their content if found illegal by considering the users as companies themselves. The court at present has received the details from all the social media intermediaries except for Twitter.
In response to a plea filed by Amit Acharya against the non-compliance of Twitter with the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 a single-judge bench of Justice Rekha Palli of Delhi High Court on May 31 issued a notice. Twitter was asked to respond within three weeks and regarding this, the micro-blogging platform has said that it had already appointed Dharmentra Chatur as its interim chief.
Further, on 2nd June, the US-based tech giant Google claimed that the new IT rules issued on 27th May would not be applicable to them as they are a search engine and not a ‘social media intermediary’. This was in response to a Delhi High Court order on 20th April to remove or disable access to offending content within India for objectionable content. The petitioner claimed that her photographs, posted on social media websites such as Facebook and Instagram, were uploaded on a pornographic website without her consent with offensive captions upon them.
In the press release issued on 27th May, the Government of India condoned twitter’s statement on the IT Rules, arguing that the micro-blogging giant has failed to show its commitment to its Indian users. The GoI release pointed out that Twitter did not have a grievance redressal officer and mechanism exclusively for Indian users.
Turning Twitter’s argument on its head, the release assured that the government respects the right to privacy, and it was Twitter acting in contravention to the right. Citing examples of lack of action on part of twitter on posts promoting vaccine hesitancy, fake narrations which tagged B. 1.617 mutant as ‘Indian’ variant despite the WHO guidelines to the contrary, it said that platform was violating its own claim of safeguarding the interests of the people.
The statement also noted that Twitter took suo moto actions against those involved in U. S Capitol protest, but did not do so during the Red Fort protest, indicating an outright bias. Further, it said that Twitter showed some areas of the Union Territory of Ladakh incorrectly as part of Chinese territory, and only took the content off after repeated reminders. The press release noted that Twitter complies with the Indian Laws to stand by its own principle of working in collaboration with democratic sovereigns, and assured safety to the representatives of the social media giant.
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