The Delhi High Court on Tuesday pulled up Twitter for not appointing a grievance officer in compliance with the new Information Technology rules, reported Bar and Bench.
“How long does your process [to appoint the officer] take?” asked Justice Rekha Palli. “If Twitter thinks it can take as long it wants in our country, I will not allow that.”
The High Court was hearing a petition by a social media user, who had alleged that he found certain “defamatory and false” posts while scrolling through the platform on May 26. The petitioner, Amit Acharya, added that when he tried to file a complaint, he could not find the resident grievance redressal officer’s details on Twitter’s page. On the petition, the Delhi High Court had asked Twitter to comply with the new IT rules.
The new information technology rules are a sweeping set of regulations – which were announced in February and became effective in May – framed to regulate social media companies, streaming and digital news content, virtually bringing them, for the first time, under the ambit of government supervision.
The rules require social media platforms to appoint chief compliance officers in order to make sure the rules are followed, nodal officers to coordinate with law enforcement agencies, and grievance officers. They also state that platforms with over 50 lakh users must help identify the originators of messages upon the government’s request.
During Tuesday’s hearing, senior counsel Sajan Poovayya, appearing for Twitter, argued that the petitioner wanted two tweets to be taken down but the social media platform found that the posts were not defamatory.
However, the court said that it would discuss the matter of appointing a grievance officer. Justice Palli told Twitter that it could have appointed another officer after the first one quit on June 21.
Twitter had appointed an interim grievance officer in compliance with the new IT rules but the official had withdrawn his candidature before steps could be taken to completely formalise the arrangement, the company had told the High Court in an affidavit on July 3. The company then appointed Global Legal Policy Director Jeremy Kessel as a grievance officer for India. However, this is not in line with the new IT rules, which mandate that all nodal officials should be based in India.
On Tuesday, Poovayya assured the High Court that Twitter will comply with the new rules and sought two weeks’ time.
Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma, appearing for the Centre, said the company was given a three-month window to comply with the rules. “They are most welcome to do business in India,” Sharma said. “But this attitude cocks a snook to the digital sovereignty of this country.”
To this, the High Court said that it had already told the company to comply and will not give it any protection.
In its order, the judge noted that Twitter had appointed only an interim grievance officer, not a permanent official, and the information was not relayed to the court. The judge also noted that Poovayya said the company will soon appoint a grievance officer. “But when asked when this appointment would be made, learned counsel sought time to obtain full instructions as time zone of company is in San Francisco,” the order said.
Posting the matter for hearing on July 8, the High Court warned Twitter’s counsel to come up with a clearer response or the firm “would be in trouble”. “It is expected that counsel for Twitter will also be ready with information on compliance with other parts of IT Rules, 2021,” the order said.
In its affidavit, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had told the High Court on Monday that Twitter has lost its “safe harbour immunity” under the Information Technology Act due to non-compliance of the new social media rules. This means that Twitter will be stripped of the protection social media websites have against legal proceedings for unlawful content posted by users if the court accepts the Centre’s submission.
The ministry said that Twitter failed to comply fully with Rules 3 and 4 of the new regulations introduced by the Centre in February. The Rules 3 and 4 deal with grievance redressal mechanism and other compliance measures. Social media websites are not eligible for immunity as intermediaries without complying with these rules, the Centre said.
It added that the social media websites were given a “sufficient period of three months” for complying with the rules, which came into effect on May 26.
Twitter vs Centre
On June 5, the Centre had sent a final notice to Twitter to comply with the rules. It asked the company to appoint India-based nodal officers, warning that the failure to do so will lead to “unintended consequences”.
The microblogging platform is facing four cases in India amid its row with the Centre. On June 29, the Delhi Police had filed a first information report against Twitter for allegedly allowing access to child pornography on its platform.
Two other cases were filed against Twitter India Managing Director Manish Maheshwari for a map showing the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh as separate from India. Another FIR was filed against the platform for posts about the assault on a Muslim man in Ghaziabad in June.