Twitter, MeitY in a war of words over new intermediary rules

The microblogging site agreed to comply with the IT rules but raised concerns about free speech. MeitY accused the platform of 'dictating terms to the world's largest democracy'

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Published: May 27, 2021 7:32 PM  | 4 min read

Microblogging platform Twitter India today said that it will comply with the intermediary guidelines in India however it also plans to advocate changes to certain elements of these regulations which it says will inhibit free and open public conversation. The platform has sought a three-month extension to comply with the guidelines.

“Twitter is deeply committed to the people of India. Our service has proven vital for public conversation and a source of support for people during the pandemic. To keep our service available, we will strive to comply with applicable law in India. But, just as we do around the world, we will continue to be strictly guided by principles of transparency, a commitment to empowering every voice on the service, and protecting freedom of expression and privacy under the rule of law," a Twitter India spokesperson said.

"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. 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.”

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has retorted by saying that the platform's statement "is an attempt to dictate its terms to the world's largest democracy. "Through its actions and deliberate defiance, Twitter seeks to undermine India's legal system. Furthermore, Twitter refuses to comply with those very regulations in the Intermediary Guidelines on the basis of which it is claiming safe harbour protection from any criminal liability in India," the MeitY said in a scathing statement.

The ministry also told Twitter to "stop beating around the bush and comply with laws of the land". "Lawmaking and policy formulations are the sole prerogatives of the sovereign and Twitter is just a social media platform and it has no locus in dictating what India’s legal policy framework should be."

Twitter is particularly concerned about the requirement to make an individual (the compliance officer) criminally liable for content on the platform, the requirements for proactive monitoring, and the blanket authority to seek information about our customers. This represents dangerous overreach that is inconsistent with open, democratic principles.
It has urged MeitY to publish these Standard Operating Protocols on procedural aspects of compliance for public consultation. The platform has also requested the ministry to consider a minimum of 3 months extension in order for Twitter to implement the Rules. Twitter also reaffirmed that it will continue to accept grievances from users and law enforcement via our existing grievance redressal channel available here under the new Rules.

Twitter said it was recently served with a non-compliance notice and had withheld a portion of the content identified in the blocking order under our Country Withheld Content policy. It noted that the content identified was originally reported to it in the blocking orders issued since February 2021.

The platform maintains that the content reported in the original order constitutes protected, legitimate free speech, under Indian and international law, and this has been formally communicated to the government. Twitter also averred that it has not taken any action on verified accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians in keeping with its principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression.

The ministry termed Twitter's concern with regards to the use of "intimidation tactics" by the Delhi Police over manipulated media tags as "baseless, false and an attempt to defame India to hide their follies". "Govt assures 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," it added.

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