Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Wednesday, 16 June, said that Twitter has “deliberately chosen the path of non compliance” and “deliberate defiance” when it comes to the Intermediary Guidelines.
Prasad’s statement comes hours after Twitter, in a first such case against it, was named in an FIR by the Ghaziabad Police which accused the social media platform of not deleting tweets with regard to an incident involving a 72-year-old Muslim elderly man, Abdul Samad Saifi, being brutally thrashed in Ghaziabad’s Loni.
This gave rise to questions about the legal protection accorded to Twitter under Section 79 of the IT Act.
“There are numerous queries arising as to whether Twitter is entitled to safe harbour provision. However, the simple fact of the matter is that Twitter has failed to comply with the Intermediary Guidelines that came into effect from the 26th of May,” RS Prasad wrote on Twitter.
A Twitter spokesperson on Wednesday said, "We are keeping the MeitY apprised of the progress at every step of the process. An interim Chief Compliance Officer has been retained and details will be shared with the Ministry directly soon. Twitter continues to make every effort to comply with the new Guidelines."
What Did RS Prasad Say?
“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,” Prasad wrote, while remaining silent on whether the social media platform had lost its status as a social media intermediary.
“Further, Twitter was given multiple opportunities to comply with the same, however it has deliberately chosen the path of non compliance,” he wrote.
Questioning Twitter’s non-compliance, Prasad further said that what happened in UP was “illustrative of Twitter’s arbitrariness in fighting fake news”, saying that the social media platform had shown a failure to act in cases like the one in question.
“..if any foreign entity believes that they can portray itself as the flag bearer of free speech in India to excuse itself from complying with the law of the land, such attempts are misplaced,” he added.
What Did Ghaziabad Police Say?
The police has said that while the crime against Saifi was heinous, the allegation of him being made to chant slogans is untrue and that the tweets made by several journalists and Congress leaders is an attempt to destroy communal harmony.
The police FIR has charged Twitter and the journalists for inciting "communal sentiments" with their posts about the man's allegations regarding the assault.
Legal Shield Lost?
Earlier, sources told NDTV that Twitter has lost the legal protection accorded to it as a social media intermediary under Section 79 of the Information Technology (IT) Act, as it has not complied with the new guidelines.
Sources told news agency ANI that Twitter is the only social media platform among the mainstream ones that has not adhered to the new laws.
"Due to their non-compliance their protection as an intermediary is gone. Twitter is liable for penal actions against any Indian law just as any publisher is," sources told NDTV.
However, in a thread, Internet Freedom Foundation cautions against such a reading of the law, saying firstly that the “intermediary status” is not a registration that is granted by the government.
Further, it states that where alleged non-compliance is for appointment of officers etc, when companies like Twitter are prosecuted, it is up to the courts to decide if it is an intermediary and not the government.
“The IT Act or IT Rules do not contain any power or process for grant or revocation of an intermediary status. There is no immediate penalty which flows from non-compliance beyond loss of immunity determined by Courts on evidence and legal submissions,” the thread said.
Centre Orders Twitter to Comply
The Centre had on 5 June served "one last notice" to Twitter to immediately comply with the new IT Rules, saying that failure to do so will result in the withdrawal of the exemption from liability under Section 79 of the IT Act, 2000, and the microblogging platform will be liable for consequences as per the IT Act and other penal laws of India.
Meanwhile, Twitter on Tuesday had said that it has appointed an interim chief compliance officer and that the details will be shared with the IT Ministry directly soon.
The microblogging platform continues to make every effort to comply with the new guidelines and it is keeping the IT Ministry apprised of the progress at every step of the process, a company spokesperson said, according to news agency PTI.
This comes amid an ongoing feud between Twitter and the central government, which is not limited just to the IT Rules. The microblogging platform had also been slammed by the government recently over the issue of 'manipulated media' labels being used for the tweets of some BJP leaders on an alleged Congress 'toolkit'.
(With inputs from PTI, ANI, and NDTV.)