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India sends ‘one last notice’ to Twitter urging it to comply with IT Rules 2021

The Indian government on Saturday sent out a “last notice” to Twitter urging it to immediately comply with the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 and warned that failure to do so would lead the platform to lose exemption from liability under the IT Act.

A note was written in this regard by Rakesh Maheshwari, the Group Coordinator in the Cyber Law Division in the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY). MediaNama has verified the veracity of this letter from MEITY sources and an RTI has been filed to obtain a public copy.

In the letter addressed to Twitter’s deputy general counsel Jim Baker, Maheshwari said that the refusal to comply with the rules that came into force on May 26 will lead to “unintended consequences” such as Twitter losing exemption from liability as an intermediary available under Section 79 of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 — this would essentially make Twitter liable for what people say on its platform.

The Indian government said that MEITY had sent letters in this regard on May 26 and May 28, but Twitter’s responses dated May 28 and June 2 “neither addressed the clarifications sought by the Ministry nor indicate full compliance with the rules”. Maheshwari sought to remind Twitter that it has been more than a week since the rules were enforced and that this notice was a “gesture of goodwill”.

This development follows days after  Twitter was dragged to the Delhi High Court for alleged non-compliance to the rules. In the court, the social media platform had informed that they have appointed a resident grievance officer in accordance with the new rules.

Charges of non-compliance made by India in the “last notice”

  • Twitter has not informed about the details of the Chief Compliance Officer as required under the Rules
  • Resident Grievance Officer and Nodal Contact Person nominated by Twitter Inc is not an employee of the platform
  • The office address of Twitter Inc is of a law firm in India

The refusal to comply demonstrates Twitter’s lack of commitment and efforts towards providing a safe experience for the people of India on its platform. The world’s largest democracy has been among the first countries in the world, outside the parent country of Twitter Inc., to enthusiastically adopt the Twitter platform. Despite being operational in India for more than a decade, it is beyond belief that Twitter Inc. has doggedly refused to create mechanisms that will enable the people of India to resolve their issues on the platform in a timely and transparent manner and through fair processes, by India based, clearly identified resources — MeitY’s letter to Twitter

The government said that the new rules give a redressal mechanism for users who are abused, harassed, subjected to defamation or sexual abuse, and/or become victims of “abusive content”.

Twitter has been embroiled in a battle on two fronts — with the Delhi Police and the Indian government. On May 26, when the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 came into force, it was speculated that significant social media intermediaries (SSMIs) who do not comply with the rules will be banned in India. Twitter had raised concerns regarding the appointment of a chief compliance officer, and the demand for proactive monitoring as prescribed under the new rules.

On the other hand, Delhi police served a notice and visited two offices of Twitter in connection with an alleged Indian National Congress-created toolkit. Twitter had labelled tweets of BJP politicians including spokesperson Sambit Patra and others on the alleged toolkit prepared by Congress as “manipulated media”.

The tweets alleged that Congress had created this toolkit to defame the Prime Minister and ‘undermine’ the government’s Covid-19 vaccination policy. Soon after Delhi Police sent a notice to Twitter seeking clarification on the usage of the term “manipulated media” since the matter was under investigation.

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