Image: PTI, AP, unsplash
In a huge development, government sources have indicated that Twitter has lost its "safe harbour" immunity in India for its failure to comply with the IT rules. While the new guidelines came into force on May 26, the social media giant was issued a final compliance notice by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) on June 5 as the former was seeking amendments. The Centre had clearly warned Twitter that nonadherence will lead to unintended consequences including Twitter losing exemption from liability as an intermediary.
Twitter to lose its status as intermediary platform in India as it does not comply with new guidelines, it is the only social media platform among mainstream that has not adhered to new laws: Government sources— ANI (@ANI) June 16, 2021
Responding to this communication on June 6, the microblogging platform mentioned that it had appointed a Nodal Contact Person and a Resident Grievance Officer on a contractual basis. On Tuesday, a Twitter spokesperson claimed that an interim Chief Compliance Officer has been appointed, the details of which will be shared with the Centre. Moreover, it invited applications for the post of Resident Grievance Officer, Nodal Officer and Chief Compliance Officer, who need to be employees of the company and Indian residents.
However, government sources stated on Wednesday that Twitter has now lost intermediary status implying that it will be treated like any other digital news publisher now. This means that the platform's top executives may face criminal liability under the Indian Penal Code for "unlawful" and "inflammatory" content posted by any user. Other significant social media intermediaries such as Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Koo, Sharechat, Telegram and LinkedIn enjoy this protection shield granted under Section 79 of the IT Act as they have complied with the new rules.
The latest flashpoint comes even as Twitter has been sued in the Delhi High Court over purported non-compliance with the Centre's new IT rules. The petition filed by advocate Amit Acharya argued that Twitter must perform its statutory and executive duties as it is a "significant social media intermediary" as per the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. Maintaining that he is deprived of his statutory right to lodge a complaint in the capacity as a Twitter user, he sought a direction for the appointment of a Resident Grievance Officer.
At the outset, Justice Rekha Palli made it clear that the microblogging service has no choice but to comply if the rules are in place. Appearing for Twitter, senior advocate Sajan Poovayya submitted that his client has now complied with the IT rules and appointed the Resident Grievance Officer on May 28, a claim which was refuted by the Centre. Recording this submission, the court issued notice to Twitter directing a response on the plea within three weeks and adjourned the matter to July 6.