Twitter Loses Protection Liability Over User Content In India

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Tense standoff for Twitter in India continues, after government strips the platform of its user content liability protection

The Indian government continues to turn the screws on Twitter, by removing its liability protection against user-generated content in India.

The Indian government announced the change in a court filing this week, as tension escalates between Twitter and local authorities over that country’s new IT rules.

It should be noted that India’s new rules came into force in May, but digital activists are concerned the new rules will curtail online free speech and privacy in India.

Intermediary Guidelines

India’s new rules (called Intermediary Guidelines) seek to regulated content on social media firms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter etc.

It seeks to make these platforms more accountable to legal requests for the swift removal of posts and sharing details about the originators of messages.

Social media firms and tech giants also have to remove content within 36 hours after an administrative or legal order is issued, under the new rules.

And to make matters worse, their staff can be held criminally liable for failing to comply with the government’s requests.

The rules also require big social media companies to set up grievance mechanisms for law enforcement complaints, and appoint new executives to co-ordinate with law enforcement.

Twitter had initially expressed concern about what it called “the potential threat to freedom of expression” when the new rules came into effect.

Liability protection

And now this week the Indian government withdrew Twitter’s liability protection against user-generated content because the microblogging platform failed to comply with new IT rules, the Indian government was quoted as saying by Reuters.

The statement is the first time Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration has officially said Twitter has lost its immunity.

It comes after India has repeatedly slammed the company for non-compliance.

India’s IT ministry told the High Court in New Delhi that Twitter’s non-compliance amounted to a breach of the provisions of the IT Act, causing Twitter to lose its immunity, according to the filing dated 5 July.

The filing reportedly came in a case filed by a Twitter user who wanted to complain about some allegedly defamatory tweets on the platform, and said the company was not complying with the new law that requires appointment of certain new executives.

Twitter declined to comment, Reuters reported.

Indian clashes

Last week Twitter was reportedly warned it was facing criminal charges in India after the platform published a map that incorrectly showed the turbulent Indian region of Kashmir as a separate country.

Then last month India’s technology minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad accused Twitter of deliberately not complying with the country’s new rules.

In May Indian police visited Twitter’s office in New Delhi, over its labelling of a tweet by a governing party spokesman as “manipulated media.”

Twitter hit back and labelled the visit as a police ‘intimidation tactic’ and reportedly said that it is now concerned for the safety of its staff in the country.

In February Twitter had refused an official request to remove over a thousand accounts from its platform.

But in late April Twitter did remove a number of tweets critical of the Indian government’s response to a new wave of Coronavirus infections that engulfed the country, killing hundreds of thousands of people.

Critics are concerned that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration is trying to silence criticism, including of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Twitter is widely used by Prime Minister Modi, his cabinet ministers and other leaders to communicate with the public.

Twitter is not the only tech platform clashing with the Indian government.

In May WhatsApp filed a lawsuit against the Indian Government, arguing that the new rules that require it to make messages “traceable” to external parties are unconstitutional and undermine the fundamental right to privacy.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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