Saturday, December 9, 2023

Delhi High Court asks Twitter to comply with new IT Rules by next date of hearing on July 8

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has filed its reply in a pending plea alleging that Twitter has not complied with the Centre’s IT Rules.

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The Delhi High Court today has expressed its displeasure over Twitter Inc. for the non-implementation of IT Ministry Guidelines by not appointing the “Grievance Officer” while it opined Twitter is in clear violation of IT Rules 2021 and has asked it to respond by July 8. 

A single-judge bench headed by Justice Rekha Palli has asked it to comply with the rules and be ready with its reply before the next date. 

During the hearing today, Sajan Poovayya, Senior Counsel for Twitter Inc, submitted that in compliance with the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and  Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, Twitter has appointed an interim Redressal Grievance Officer, who, however, withdrew his consent on June 21 and thereafter, Twitter is in the process of appointing a new Redressal Grievance Officer. 

The Court in its order has recorded, “When queried as to what is the time-frame within which the process claimed to have been undertaken by Twitter likely to be completed, Mr Poovayya prayed for time to obtain clear instructions.” 

“Ld. ASG Mr Sharma appearing on behalf of Centre submitted that the said IT Rules were notified on February 25, 2021 and that Twitter is in clear breach of the said IT Rules. Mr G Tushar Rao, Sr. Counsel, requested that Twitter be directed to appoint other officers as well including the Nodal Officer and also to work out a redressal mechanism,” noted the Court. 

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has filed its reply in a pending plea alleging that Twitter has not complied with the Centre’s IT Rules. The Affidavit has been filed by N. Samaya Balan of the Cyber Law Group with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India. According to the affidavit (MeitY) in the exercise of the powers conferred by sub-section (1), clauses (z) and (zg) of subsection (2) of section 87 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (21 of 2000), and in supersession of the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011, notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 on 25th February 2021 in the Official Gazette.

Twitter admittedly qualifies as a significant Social Media Intermediary (“SSMI”) as defined under Rule 2(1) (v) of the IT Rules 2021 hence Twitter is obligated to comply with the provisions of the IT Rules, 2021 and the compliances set out therein. Rule 3 provides for various due diligence obligations to be followed by all intermediaries to avail exemptions from liability as mandated under section 79(1) of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Rule 4 provides for additional due diligence to be complied with by SSMIs, said the affidavit.

It has further stated that the Government of India notified the IT Rules, 2021 on 25.02.2021. On 26.02.2021 the threshold limit of a number of registered users for an intermediary to qualify as an SSMI was notified. That a sufficient period of three months from this date, i.e. from 26.02.2021 was granted to all SSMIs to comply with the additional due diligence set out under Rule 4 of the IT Rules, 2021. Thus, from 26.05.2021 onwards, all SSMIs are mandatorily required to comply with the obligations set out in Rule 4 of the IT Rules, 2021.

It has pointed out that as per Rule 3(1)(d), an intermediary, upon receiving ‘actual knowledge’ through court order or upon being notified by the appropriate government or its agency, shall remove within thirty-six hours any unlawful information which is prohibited under any law in relation to the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, contempt of court, defamation, incitement to an offence or any information which violates any law for the time being in force.

MeitY has informed the Court that initially, Twitter has appointed the interim Resident Grievance Officer and the interim Nodal Contact Person. Later Twitter informed that the said interim Resident Grievance Officer and Nodal Officer have withdrawn/resigned from their positions. In the interim, the grievances from India are being handled by personnel of Twitter inc. situated in the United State of America which amounts to non-compliance with the IT Rules 2021.

“The IT Rules, 2021 are the law of the land and Respondent No. 2 is mandatorily required to comply with the same. Any non-compliance amounts to a 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. I state that 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 reads.

Earlier, Twitter Inc has informed the Delhi High Court that it is in the final stages of appointing a resident grievance officer for India. In its affidavit, Twitter Inc said the grievance of the petitioner was received and acknowledged by the answering respondent/ Twitter Inc within 24 hours on May 26, 2021. Further, the grievance has also been disposed of within the period of 15 days on June 9 as prescribed by Rule 3(2)of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (“Intermediaries Guidelines”). The matter is listed for hearing on July 6 before the Delhi High Court.

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It is pertinent to note that the petition has been filed before the Delhi High Court alleging that Twitter has not complied with the Centre’s IT Rules to appoint a resident grievance officer, and sought directions to the social media platform to comply without any delay. Petitioner Amit Acharya stated that the Information Technology Rules came into effect from February 25 and the Centre had given three months to every social media intermediary, including Twitter, to comply with them.

In his plea, filed through advocate Akash Vajpai and Manish Kumar, Acharya said he came to know about the alleged non-compliance when he tried to lodge a complaint against a couple of tweets. Under the new digital rules, social media companies like Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter have been asked to identify within 36 hours the originator of a flagged message as well as conduct additional due diligence, including the appointment of a chief compliance officer, nodal contact person and resident grievance officer.

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