Microblogging company had termed new IT rules a dangerous overreach
Hours after Twitter joined WhatsApp in raising concerns over the new IT rules on Thursday, the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) turned the heat on the microblogging company, asking it to “stop beating around the bush and comply with the laws of the land”.
Earlier in the day, Twitter said it was concerned about the new rule that makes the compliance officer of the company criminally liable for content on the platform. The American company said the requirements for proactive monitoring and the blanket authority to seek information about its customers represents dangerous overreach that is inconsistent with open, democratic principles.
The Government hit back, saying that it condemned the “unfortunate” statement issued by Twitter as “totally baseless, false and an attempt to defame India to hide their own follies”.
“Twitter’s statement is an attempt to dictate its terms to the world’s largest democracy. Twitter refuses to comply with those very regulations in the Intermediary Guidelines on the basis of which it is claiming a safe harbour protection from any criminal liability in India,” MeitY said.
This comes a day after WhatsApp filed a petition in Delhi High Court challenging the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 that came into effect on Wednesday. The Facebook-owned company has objections to the requirement of tracing the originator of messages on its platform. MeitY had termed WhatsApp’s move as an act of defiance.
Both WhatsApp and Twitter have been battling the Government on different issues over the past weeks. While WhatsApp refused to roll back its new terms of services despite being asked to do so by the Government, Twitter is in the dock for tagging a BJP spokesperson’s post as “manipulative media”. Delhi Police had also visited Twitter’s office in Delhi in this regard earlier this week.
A Twitter spokesperson said that the police were using intimidation tactics. “Right now, we are concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat to freedom of expression for the people we serve. 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,” said a Twitter spokesperson.
Countering this, the Government said that it wishes to “emphatically assure that representatives of social media companies including Twitter are and will always remain safe in India and there is no threat to their personal safety and security.” The Ministry, however, added that “protecting free speech in India ‘is not the prerogative of only a private, for-profit, foreign entity like Twitter.”
MeitY has also raised questions on Twitter India representatives routinely claiming that they have no authority and that they and the people of India need to escalate everything to headquarters in the US. “The purported commitment of Twitter, to its Indian user base, thus not only sounds hollow but completely self-serving.”
While Twitter and Facebook-owned WhatsApp are taking the battle to the Government, the other tech giant Google said it would comply with the new rules. Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai on Thursday said that the tech giant is committed to comply with the local laws adding that the company’s local teams are engaging with the government in this regard.
Experts said that the issue was taking the focus away from the pandemic. “This macho rodomontading by Govt is so unbecoming of a ministry. This odd dodging by Twitter that we are merely a sales office is disingenuous. Everyone participating in this artificially created theatrical distraction from the pandemic,” said Mishi Choudhary, Founder, Software Freedom Law Centre.