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'Potential threat to freedom of expression': Twitter on Modi govt's new digital rule

Twitter requested the IT Ministry to consider a minimum of three-month extension in order for the company to implement the new intermediary guidelines

Thursday May 27, 2021 1:11 PM, ummid.com with inputs from IANS

Twitter India

New Delhi: Breaking its silence on the new digital rules in the middle of a clash with the Narendra Modi government over the "Congress toolkit row" Twitter on Thursday expressed concern over "the potential threat to freedom of expression and intimidation tactics by the police".

At the same time, Twitter requested the IT Ministry to consider a minimum of three-month extension in order for the company to implement the new intermediary guidelines.

Twitter, which witnessed a police raid on its offices in Delhi and Gurugram early this week related to the alleged "Congress toolkit" controversy, said that it reaffirms that Twitter continues to accept grievances from users and law enforcement via its existing grievance redressal channel available under the new IT Rules.

"Intimidation Tactics by Police"

Stressing that it will strive to comply with applicable law in India, a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement that 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," Twitter said in its first reaction after the police raids on its offices.

On Monday, Delhi Police visited Twitter India's local offices in the National Capital Region after Twitter had marked one of the tweets of BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra as "manipulated media".

The company spokesperson said that it plans 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 spokesperson said.

The new rules notified in the gazette of India on February 25 under the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules, 2021, came into effect from May 26.

WhatsApp has moved the Delhi High Court against the new IT rules for intermediaries, saying these would violate privacy.

"Committed to the Right to Privacy"

Electronics and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has said the government is committed to the right to privacy, but simultaneously it also has to maintain law and order and ensure national security.

The Union Ministry of Electronics and IT has written to the social media platforms, directing them to respond on their compliance to the new digital rules as soon as possible.

Facebook has said that the company aims to comply with the provisions of the new intermediary guidelines and is working towards it.

"Dangerous Overreach"

Twitter said in its fresh statement that it 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," the company argued.

"We urge the Ministry of Electronics and IT to publish these Standard Operating Protocols on procedural aspects of compliance for public consultation. We would request the Ministry to consider a minimum of 3 months extension in order for Twitter to implement the Rules".

Twitter was recently served with a non-compliance notice and have withheld a portion of the content identified in the blocking order under its 'Country Withheld Content' policy.

"The content identified was originally reported to us in the blocking orders issued since February 2021. We maintain that the content reported in the original order constitutes protected, legitimate free speech, under Indian and international law, and we have formally communicated this to the government," the company informed.

Twitter said that it has not taken any action on verified accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists and politicians.

"The escalated content constitutes legitimate free speech. Yet, due to the law's limited scope under Section 69A which gives limited room to an intermediary to defend the content, we have been compelled to withhold in response to a non-compliance notice. Not doing so poses penal consequences with many risks for Twitter employees," the company noted.


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