THE DELHI High Court Thursday said the Central Government can initiate action against Twitter in accordance with the new IT rules in case of non-compliance even as the micro-blogging site submitted a timeline on the appointment process of officers as mandated while maintaining that it reserves the right to challenge the rules.
The court’s remarks came on a day when the new Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology, Ashwini Vaishnaw, made his stand clear on the ongoing faceoff between the Government and Twitter over the IT rules, saying that whoever lived and worked in India would have to follow its rules — and that the “law of the land is supreme”.
In the High Court, listing a plea alleging non-compliance of IT rules by Twitter on July 28, Justice Rekha Palli said: “It is made clear that since this court has only granted time to Twitter to file its affidavits to show compliance of the rules and there is no interim protection granted to Twitter, it will be open for Union of India to take action against Twitter in accordance with the rules in case of any breach of the rules.”
Twitter, meanwhile, submitted a note before the court, stating that in accordance with the new rules, it will file its first compliance report covering the period May 26-June 25 “no later than on July 11” — and appoint an interim Resident Grievance Officer on or within that date.
It said it has engaged frequently with the Centre on the rules, including on “developing standard operating procedures as regards, in part, the liability of various officers appointed…” It said: “Twitter’s submissions regarding compliance are filed without prejudice to its right to challenge the Rules.”
The new rules, announced in February, had asked all social media platforms to set up a grievances redressal and compliance mechanism, which included appointing a resident grievance officer, chief compliance officer and a nodal contact person.
On Monday, the High Court had said that it expects the micro-blogging site to inform it on Thursday about its stand “regarding complying with all other provisions” of IT Rules, 2021.
On Thursday, Twitter told the court that it has appointed a resident of India as its interim Chief Compliance Officer effective July 6. However, the company said the officer’s services would be that of a contingent worker via a third-party contractor. It said it “will endeavour in good faith to make an offer of employment to a qualified candidate to fill this position within 8 weeks”.
Regarding the Nodal Contact Officer, Twitter said it will endeavour to recruit a qualified candidate, who is a resident of India, on an interim basis within two weeks and fill the position within eight weeks.
It also said that it is in the process of making an offer to a resident of India as its interim Resident Grievance Officer and expects to do so on or before July 11 — a Grievance Office is performing this role at present.
Questioning Twitter for referring to the officers as “interim”, Justice Palli asked whether they will assume all responsibility as mandated by the new rules. “Tomorrow you may take benefit of the word ‘interim’,” observed the court.
Senior Advocate Sajan Poovayya, representing Twitter, told the court that the word is used because the company does not have a liaison office as yet in India. “It has applied for permission to have a liaison office. It operates from the premises of a third party, therefore it is unable to put a fulfilled employee by giving a fulfilled address,” Poovayya said.
Poovayya also submitted that the word ‘interim’ does not take away the responsibility of those officers under the new rules.
Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma submitted that the Central Government wants accountability of “great certitude”. On Twitter’s reply, Sharma submitted: “This is no affidavit. It is just like two warring countries offering a joint statement in diplomatic parlance. Where does the third party come in. It is not in the rules.”
Stating that only a short note, not an affidavit, has been filed, the court granted two weeks to Twitter for filing hard copies of the notarised affidavit of a competent officer. However, the court said the scanned copy of the affidavit should be filed by July 13.
It also said the affidavit should be accompanied by affidavits of officers already stated to have been appointed and the persons who are being appointed. Twitter had earlier said that it has to get the main affidavit from its headquarters in San Francisco.
The court is hearing a petition filed by Amit Acharya, a lawyer, that he had wanted to raise a grievance against verified users for “defamatory, false and untrue” tweets but was unable to find the contact details of the Resident Grievance Office on the website of Twitter, as mandated under the new rules.
The appointment of these executives has been a friction point between Centre and Twitter.
In February, when the Ministry announced new guidelines for social media intermediaries and digital news platforms, it had given them a deadline of 90 days, which ended on May 26, to abide or lose immunity from prosecution for content posted on their platforms.
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