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Here is why Twitter lost coveted ‘safe harbour’ in India

By Saima Siddiqui 
Updated Date

New Delhi: The America based micro-blogging site, Twitter, has lost its coveted “safe harbour” immunity in India after not being able to appoint statutory officers on time. The government sources on Wednesday said that Twitter has lost its ‘intermediary’ status in India over non-compliance with the new IT rules for the social media companies. Sources said that Twitter has been the only mainstream social media platform that has not adhered to the new digital laws.

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“Twitter has lost its intermediary status in India the moment they didn’t comply with new IT rules. No order will be issued to declare them non-compliant,’’ the sources said as per ANI.

The sources further added that Twitter will be liable for the content when it comes to it being violative of any law. They added that ”Twitter’s communication in media is very vague.” “If they have appointed anyone, they should share the name. who is that person,’’ the sources said.

According to a media report, the company’s top executives, including the country managing director, could now face police questioning and criminal liability over ‘unlawful’ and ‘inflammatory’ content posted on the platform by any user.

With this, Twitter becomes the only American platform to have lost the protective shield – granted under Section 79 of the IT Act, even though others such as, YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp and remain protected.

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Companies had to originally appoint the officers by May 25, but many were delayed as they blamed the lockdown and other technical challenges for their failure to comply with the rules.

Reacting to the developments, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union Minister for Electronics & Information Technology, said it is “astounding that Twitter which portrays itself as the flag bearer of free speech, chooses the path of deliberate defiance when it comes to the Intermediary Guidelines”.

“Further, what is perplexing is that Twitter fails to address the grievances of users by refusing to set up process as mandated by the law of the land. Additionally, it chooses a policy of flagging manipulates media, only when it suits, its likes and dislikes,” he added.

Meanwhile, Twitter on Tuesday said it has appointed an interim Chief Compliance Officer and the details of the official will be shared with the IT Ministry directly soon. The Government had issued a notice to Twitter giving it one last chance to “immediately” comply with the new IT rules and warned that failure to adhere to the norms will lead to the platform losing exemption from liability under the IT Act.

Following this, Twitter had assured the Indian government last week that it is in advanced stages of finalising the appointment of chief compliance officer as required under the new IT rules, and that it will submit additional details within a week. A Twitter spokesperson on Tuesday said the company continues to make every effort to comply with the new guidelines, and is keeping the IT Ministry apprised of progress at every step of the process.

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An interim Chief Compliance Officer has been retained and details will be shared with the Ministry directly soon, the spokesperson added. The move by Twitter assumes significance as the microblogging platform has been facing heat over delay in complying with the IT rules that mandate large digital platforms to undertake greater due diligence, and make them more accountable and responsible for the content that is hosted. As per the rules, significant social media intermediaries — those with over 50 lakh users — are required to appoint a grievance officer, a nodal officer and a chief compliance officer. These personnel have to be residents in India.

It may be recalled that the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) had on June 5 said that it had given Twitter one last notice to comply with the new rules concerning social media companies. The ministry said in the letter that the New Intermediary Guideline Rules have become effective from May 26.

“The provisions for significant social media intermediaries under the Rules have already come into force on May 26 2021 and it has been more than a week but Twitter has refused to comply with the provisions of these Rules. Needless to state, such non-compliance will lead to unintended consequences including Twitter losing exemption from liability as intermediary available under section 79 of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000. This has clearly been provided under rule 7 of the aforesaid Rules,” it said.

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