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UP Police lodges FIR against Twitter and others for posts on Ghaziabad attack

Twitter blocked government order

The Uttar Pradesh police have lodged an FIR against Twitter and others in connection with tweets on an elderly man who was allegedly assaulted in Ghaziabad. Loni Border Police Station in Ghaziabad district registered the case against the social media platform, confirmed a police official at the concerned station to MediaNama.

Media organisation The Wire, which has been named as one of the accused in the FIR, reported that the other accused named in the FIR are Twitter Communications India Pvt, Twitter Inc, journalists Mohammad Zubair of AltNews, Rana Ayub, Congress’ Salman Nizami, Maskoor Usmani and Shama Mohamed. The FIR was filed at 11.20 PM on June 15.

The sections invoked are IPC Section 153 (provocation for rioting), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), 295A (acts intended to outrage religious feelings), 505 (mischief), 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 34 (common intention) against them, the Wire report said.

Why is Twitter an accused?

The tweets, in particular, pertain to an elderly Muslim man who was attacked in Loni in UP’s Ghaziabad district on June 5. A Hindustan Times report said that the assailants also chopped 72-year-old Abdul Samad’s beard and forced him to chant religious slogans. A video of the incident went viral on social media platforms in the following days.

While it is being said that the attack is communal in nature, police deny that angle and maintain that it was an interpersonal matter that led to the attack. The FIR reportedly said that the Ghaziabad Police had clarified regarding the matter, but despite that, the accused did not delete their tweets and Twitter did not delete them. MediaNama has reached out to Twitter regarding the matter, and the post will be updated when we receive a response.

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Quoting the FIR, the Wire report said, “It is expected that members with positions of influence in the society will try to establish the truth and use their discretion while giving out information. They [accused] have a duty towards society. In this case, the tweets were not verified which gave a communal angle of the incident despite being untrue.”

Further, it states, “These tweets were done with the intent of disturbing the peace in the society. The tweets not only created tension but also invoked fear among a particular community in Uttar Pradesh.”

Implications of non-compliance under IT Rules?

This FIR comes in the backdrop of multiple reports citing unnamed government sources who claimed that Twitter has lost its status as an intermediary for failing to comply with the IT Rules 2021. Non-compliance to the IT Rules means that Twitter may be liable for the content shared by users on its platform.

NDTV quoted unidentified sources as saying, “Twitter is liable for penal actions against any Indian law just as any publisher is.” In response, a Twitter spokesperson told MediaNama, “We are keeping the MeitY apprised of the progress at every step of the process. Twitter continues to make every effort to comply with the new Guidelines.”

Union IT minister also tweeted in this regard on June 16, saying, “It is astounding that Twitter which portrays itself as flag bearer of free speech, chooses the path of deliberate defiance when it comes to Intermediary Guidelines.”

“There is no denying the fact that Twitter comes within the purview of IT Rules and is liable to comply with the same. As per the reports, the addition of Twitter as an accused in the case for non-compliance is as per the provisions of the Rules and the case will be tried accordingly. However, if Twitter feels it has duly complied with the Rules, it will have to prove its stand because the fact that Government has moved the Court shows that it feels the company is still far behind,” Siddharth Jain, co-founding partner, PSL Advocates and Solicitors told MediaNama.

Kritika Seth, Founding Partner, Victoriam Legalis – Advocates & Solicitors said, “As an initial matter, it is important to understand that in accordance with Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, “intermediaries” are entitled to exemption from liability provided that the conditions regarding due diligence and intermediary not being the initiator or modifier of the information transmitted, inter alia, are fulfilled.

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However, it is significant to note that Twitter would only be able avail of this exemption prescribed under Section 79 of the IT Act, if it qualifies as an “intermediary” within the purview of the IT Act. In light of MEITYs notice to twitter regarding compliance with the new rules and its potential loss of the exemption from liability as intermediary under Section 79 as per the new rules, this issue will require an in-depth and detailed analysis of facts and circumstances to determine the probable standing of Twitter in such a matter. Also, the timelines of the acts being committed and the Section 79 exemption being available or unavailable to Twitter would be of utmost relevance in this matter — Kritika Seth, Founding Partner, Victoriam Legalis – Advocates & Solicitors

Last week, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology sent a letter to Twitter warning that if Twitter did not comply with the IR Rules then it would lose exemption from liability as an intermediary available under Section 79 of the IT Act 2000.

Also read

Update, June 16, 6.55 pm: The post has been updated with a quote from Kritika Seth, Founding Partner, Victoriam Legalis – Advocates & Solicitors

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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