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New intermediary rules: MeitY, Delhi Police spar with Twitter

New intermediary rules: MeitY, Delhi Police spar with Twitter
Photo Credit: Reuters
27 May, 2021

A day after the new rules for social media platforms operating in India came into effect, microblogging platform Twitter said that it would continue to engage with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) to protect freedom of expression and privacy.  

This however did not go down well with the ministry which asked Twitter to “...disabuse itself of this grandiosity and comply with the laws of India,” in a three-page statement. 

In the light of Information Technology (Intermediary guidelines and digital media ethics code) Rules 2021  coming into effect on Wednesday, Twitter also flagged its concerns on the role of the compliance officer as described in the rules. The rules hold the office-bearer criminally liable for content on the platform. It has also asked MeitY to make public the Standard operating Procedures (SOPs) being worked upon for public and stakeholder consultation. Twitter has also asked MeitY for a three-month extension to comply with the new rules. 

A Twitter spokesperson said in a statement, “We, alongside many in civil society in India and around the world, have concerns with regards to the use of intimidation tactics by the police in response to enforcement of our global Terms of Service, as well as with core elements of the new IT Rules.” 

The statement refers to the recent visit by the special cell of the Delhi Police at Twitter’s New Delhi office to serve a notice for tagging a tweet by the spokesperson for the ruling party BJP as ‘manipulated media.’ According to the guidelines and policies, Twitter labels tweets including videos, audio and images which are deceptively altered or fabricated. 

MeitY in its statement said, “Law making and policy formulations is the sole prerogative of the sovereign and Twitter is just a social media platform and it has no locus standi dictating what should India’s legal policy framework should be.”

Twitter’s stance did not go down well with the Delhi Police either which issued a separate statement calling Twitter’s conduct over the last few days “...obfuscatory, diversionary and tendentious.” The statement said that Twitter refused to share the material evidence it possesses which marks the Tweet in question as ‘manipulated media’ with the law enforcement authority. 

All social media platforms, online news and content platforms were asked to comply with the new rules by May 25, while stipulating those social media platforms with over 5 million registered users appoint a compliance officer, nodal officer and grievance officer stationed in India.  

The Twitter spokesperson said, “We plan to advocate for changes to elements of these regulations that inhibit free, open public conversation. We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Indian Government and believe it is critical to adopt a collaborative approach. It is the collective responsibility of elected officials, industry, and civil society to safeguard the interests of the public.” 

In a separate press conference this week with reporters from the Asia Pacific region, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that the company was clear about the values of a free and open internet and its benefits. According to media reports, Pichai said that these were early days, without specifically commenting on compliance.  

In a statement, a Google spokesperson said, “We respect India’s legislative process and have a long history of responding to government requests to remove content where the content violates the local law or our product policies. We have consistently invested in significant product changes, resources, and personnel to ensure that we’re combating illegal content in an effective and fair way, and in order to comply with local laws in the jurisdictions that we operate in.” 

The spokesperson further added, “We realize that our work in keeping our platforms secure is never done and we will continue to refine our existing approaches and evolve our policies and be as transparent as possible about how we make decisions.”