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House panel asks Twitter to explain blocking of Prasad, Tharoor handles

It is learnt that the committee wrote to Twitter – it was summoned before the panel on June 18 -- and asked it to explain why the Twitter handles of Prasad and Tharoor were blocked, what is its policy on blocking accounts and the safeguards to ensure that random blocking does not take place.

Written by Liz Mathew | New Delhi |
Updated: June 30, 2021 2:07:43 am
Ravi Shankar Prasad, Shashi Tharoor, Twitter, new IT rules, social media rulesSoon after Ravi Shankar Prasad flagged the issue, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor tweeted that he too had faced something similar.

As the row between Twitter and the government intensifies over the new IT guidelines, the parliamentary standing committee on IT has sought an explanation from the microblogging platform on the blocking of Twitter accounts of Union Information and Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and committee chairman Shashi Tharoor.

It is learnt that the committee wrote to Twitter – it was summoned before the panel on June 18 — and asked it to explain why the Twitter handles of Prasad and Tharoor were blocked, what is its policy on blocking accounts and the safeguards to ensure that random blocking does not take place.

Last week, Prasad was blocked from accessing his account, ratcheting up tensions with the government and Twitter came under fresh criticism for not following Indian laws.

Twitter denied Prasad access to his account for almost an hour on the grounds that he had violated the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Prasad said the platform violated IT rules that require an intermediary or a host of user content to give prior notice before locking access.

He criticised Twitter, saying its “actions indicate that they are not the harbinger of free speech that they claim to be but are only interested in running their own agenda”.

Following this incident, Tharoor too said that he had faced a similar issue with Twitter.

On June 25, responding to Prasad’s post on the blocking of his account, Tharoor said: “Raviji, the same thing just happened to me. Clearly DMCA is getting hyperactive. This tweet has been deleted by @Twitter because its video includes the copyrighted BoneyM song ‘Rasputin’.”

“As Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, I can state that we will be seeking an explanation from @TwitterIndia for the locking of @rsprasad’s & my accounts & the rules & procedures they follow while operating in India,” he said.

On Tuesday, committee members from across parties were said to have been united in making it clear to Google India and Facebook India that they would have to comply with Indian IT rules.

The committee, according to its website, summoned representatives of Google India and Facebook to hear their views “on the subject ‘Safeguarding citizens’ rights and prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms including special emphasis on women security in the digital space’.”

Facebook India was said to have told the panel that it does not have ways to find the source of a WhatsApp message as it is protected by end-to-end encryption. It is learnt that members wanted to know that if this is the case, how does it limit the forwarding of messages.

In April 2020, WhatsApp had imposed a limit on forwarding of messages. Frequently forwarded messages, those which have been previously forwarded five times or more, can only be forwarded to one chat at a time.

Facebook and Google were said to have told the panel that they would fully comply with provisions of the IT rules and the law of the land.

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