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Twitter’s compliance with the IT Rules now official after passing government check

The social media platform was slow to comply with the controversial rules, even risking its safe harbour status at one point.

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The Indian government, in a short affidavit, has confirmed the appointments made by Twitter in accordance to the Information Technology (IT) Rules 2021, and confirmed that the social media platform is now in compliance with the rules.

The IT Ministry’s verification of Twitter’s compliance with the IT Rules marks the end of a four-month court battle between the two. The company was taken to court by advocate Amit Acharya, a day after May 26, the last date set by the government for all social media intermediaries to comply with the rules.

Earlier on August 10, the government had told the Delhi High Court that Twitter looked to be prima face in compliance. However, government counsel Chetan Sharma had said that it will file an affidavit in this regard after verifying the same.

What did the IT Ministry verify?

In its affidavit, submitted by N Samaya Balan, Scientist E in the Cyber Law Group in MeitY, the government said —

  • Twitter has “clearly acknowledged” that Chief Compliance Officer, Nodal Contact Person, and Resident Grievance Officer are appointed as Twitter’s employees and not as ‘contingent workers’.
  • Twitter has provided the names of the appointed employees with their respective designations
  • Twitter’s affidavit mentions that their employment started on August 4, 2021
  • Twitter also provided employment contracts as proof of the appointments

Twitter is mandatorily required to comply with the IT Rules 2021 in its entirety. Any non-compliance amounts to a breach of the provisions of the IT Rules, 2021 thereby leading to Twitter losing its immunity conferred under section 79( I) of the IT Act, 2000. The exemptions conferred on intermediaries under section 79( I) is a conditional exemption subject to the intermediary satisfying the conditions under sections 79(2) and 79(3) — Union government affidavit

Who are the appointed employees?

Nodal Contact Person: Twitter appointed Shahin Komath, a former executive at Bytedance as the permanent nodal contact person (NCP) for Twitter in India. Komath’s LinkedIn page described him as the former Nodal and Grievance Officer of ByteDance from March 2020 to January 2021. He was also the Nodal and Regulatory Officer for Vodafone Idea from December 2011 to March 2020. His LinkedIn page also said that he was an advocate at the Kerala High Court for a year.

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Interim Grievance Officer and Chief Compliance Officer: Vinay Prakash, who was earlier appointed as the interim grievance officer, was made permanent on August 4. He has also been appointed as the chief compliance officer. Prakash studied Diplomacy and South Asian Security at King’s College London. He has worked as an analyst for Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP who was recently appointed as a Minister of State (MoS) in the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY).

Amit Acharya’s counsel to register his grievance regarding appointments

In a previous hearing, although the Indian government seemed satisfied with the appointments made by Twitter, Acharya’s counsel G Tushar Rao had objected to it asking how one person can have two roles — chief compliance officer and resident grievance officer.

He also pointed out that the major reason behind filing the petition — tweets that were flagged for defamation by Acharya — had not been addressed during the hearings. He is expected to file his objections regarding the matter in an affidavit.

It is submitted that the Petitioner wanted to raise grievance against these offensive and objectionable tweet at the Appropriate Forum i.e. Resident Grievance Officer under Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Ethics Code) Rules 2021. However the Petitioner was unable to find the contact details of the Resident Grievance Officer on the website of Respondent No. 3 under Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Ethics Code) Rules 2021 for raising his grievance. — Acharya’s petition read

What do the IT Rules require?

The IT rules require social media intermediaries to:

  • Appoint key managerial roles: Significant social media intermediaries (with more than 50 lakh registered users) must appoint a chief compliance officer, nodal contact person, and resident grievance officer, all of whom must be Indian residents and employees of the platform.
  • Disable content within 36 hours of government order: The rules also ask intermediaries to provide information for verification of identity or assist any government agency for crime prevention and investigations no later than 72 hours of receiving a lawful order. They also have to preserve records of disabled content for 180 days.
  • Proactively identify and take down content using automated tools
  • Publish periodic compliance reports

A brief timeline of the case:

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

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