Twitter losing immunity due to non-compliance of IT Rules: Centre to Delhi HC

New Delhi: The Centre has informed the Delhi High Court that Twitter has failed to comply with the IT Rules, 2021 as on July 1, on four counts: Chief compliance officer not being appointed; the position of the resident grievance officer is vacant; the position of the nodal contact person (even on an interim basis) is vacant; and the physical contact address, which was shown to be there on May 29, is not available on Twitter’s website.

In a short affidavit, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said: “IT Rules, 2021 are the law of the land and Respondent No. 2 (Twitter) is mandatorily required to comply with the same. Any non-compliance amounts to breach of the provisions of the IT Rules, thereby leading to Respondent No. 2 losing its immunity conferred under Section 79(1) of the IT Act, 2000.”

The affidavit filed through N. Samaya Balan, a scientist in the Cyber Law Group with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, said 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).

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“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,” added the affidavit.

Balan said as per the details gleaned from Twitter’s website/mobile application, in the interim the grievances from India are being handled by personnel situated in the US, which amounts to non-compliance with the IT Rules 2021.

“I state that the Respondent No. 2 (Twitter) is admittedly ‘intermediary’ within the meaning of Section 2(1)(w) of IT Act, 2000 and an SSMI under the IT Rules, 2021. In spite of the three months’ time granted to all SSMIs to comply with the IT Rules, 2021 having expired on May 26, Respondent No. 2 has failed to fully comply with the same,” added the affidavit.

Last week, the US microblogging and social networking service had informed the Delhi High Court that it is in the final stages of appointing a resident grievance officer in India.

In a reply submitted to the Delhi High Court, Twitter had said that even before steps were taken to formalise the appointment of a grievance officer in India, the interim grievance officer had withdrawn his candidature on June 21.

“The answering respondent is in the final stages of appointing a replacement while in the meanwhile the grievances of the Indian users are being addressed by the grievance officer,” the microblogging platform had said in its reply.

On May 31, a Delhi High Court bench of Justice Rekha Palli had issued a notice to the microblogging platform, giving it three weeks’ time to file its reply. The matter was posted for further hearing on July 6.

The plea had urged the high court to issue directions to the Centre to pass necessary instructions to Twitter India and Twitter Inc to appoint a resident grievance officer under Rule 4 of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 without any delay.

The plea had contended that in a nutshell, every significant social media intermediary has the responsibility of appointing not only a resident grievance officer who will act as a single-point authority for receiving and disposing of complaints within a fixed time, but someone should also receive and acknowledge any order, notice and direction issued by the competent authorities.

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