Twitter loses immunity as an intermediary for violating the new IT rules: Union Government to Delhi HC

THE Union Government, in its response to the Delhi High Court, has maintained that Twitter has still not complied with the new IT rules which came into effect on May 26. The government went on to add that this may have resulted in the tech giant losing its immunity as an intermediary provided under section 79(1) of the IT Act, 2000.

“Any non-compliance amounts to breach of the provisions of the IT Rules, 2021 thereby leading to Respondent No. 2 losing its immunity conferred under section 79(1) of the IT Act, 2000. The immunity conferred on intermediaries under section 79(1) is a conditional immunity subject to the intermediary satisfying the conditions under sections 79(2) and 79(3). As provided in Rule 7, failure to observe the IT rules, 2021, results in provisions of Section 79(1) of the IT Act, 2000 not being applicable to such an intermediary,” the affidavit read.

Here, Twitter is Respondent No. 2 to the petition while the Government is Respondent No. 1.  The reply by the government was in response to a petition filed by Delhi High Court Lawyer Amit Acharya through advocates Akash Vajpai and Manish Kumar. Acharya has filed this petition against Twitter for non-compliance with the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Ethics Code) 2021.

Also Read: The Leaflet challenges constitutionality of new IT Rules at Bombay High Court – TheLeaflet

The petition filed by him alleges “ defamatory, false and untrue” tweets by Trinamool MP Mahua Moitra and Journalist Swati Chaturvedi. The tweets are as follows:

Mahua Moitra (@MahuaMoitra): “Welcome to our Susu Potty Republic! Drink Gomutra, smear cow dung & flush the rule of law down the toilet @DelhiPolice issue notice to Twitter & land up in their offices for rightly calling out @BJP ‘S fake document as manipulated media. Go Figure.”

Swati Chaturvedi (@bainjal): “If Bobde had been Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Modi would have been able to appoint his favourite Gujarat IPS official Rakesh Ashtana. What a huge difference a CJI who follows the law makes.”

The petitioner wanted to raise a complaint in this regard but was unable to find the contact details of the Resident Grievance Officer on Twitter’s website.

The government has said that even after qualifying as a Significant Social Media Intermediary(SSMI) according to Rule 2(1) (v) of the new intermediary rules, the micro-blogging site has failed to comply with the guidelines. The rules state that any social media platform with over 5 million users is treated as SSMI. Twitter presently has more than 1.5 crore users.

The petitioner has asked the High Court to issue a Writ or direction to the government and Twitter to comply with the new IT rules. The petitioner also requested the court to issue any further orders in this regard if it feels necessary.

The government also said that the petitioner was well within his right as a “user” under Rule 2 (1) (x) to avail the rights of the new rules. According to the government, the micro-blogging site has violated the following rules:

a. Chief Compliance Officer has not been appointed

b. The position of the Resident Grievance Officer is vacant

c. The position of Nodal Contact Person,(even on an interim basis) is vacant.

d. The physical contact address, which was shown to be there on 29th May 2021 is again unavailable on Twitter’s website.

The centre has told the court that Twitter had earlier appointed interim Residential Grievance Officer and Nodal Contact Person. But later, both the officers resigned from their post, keeping the post vacant once again. Grievance complaints are now handled by Twitter’s US officials, which has sparked a fresh controversy.

The government said in the affidavit that the rules were notified on 25 February earlier this year in the official Gazette. Three months’ time was provided to all the intermediaries to comply as mandated by Rule 4 of the new IT rules.

Also Read: Are the New IT Rules the Next Sedition Law? – TheLeaflet

“The Petitioner has instituted this Writ Petition in respect of his complaint dated 26.05. 2021. The relationship between the Petitioner and the Answering Respondent (Twitter) is contractual, as more particularly set out hereinabove. A Writ Petition is therefore not maintainable,’ Twitter said in the reply earlier.

The response was filed by Samayabalan, who is a Scientist-E in the Cyber Law Group with the Ministry of Information and Technology on behalf of the Union Government. This comes after Twitter made headlines a few days ago when it temporarily blocked Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Union Minister for Law & Justice, Communications and Information Technology on its platform.

The Leaflet