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‘Gross violation’: Ravi Shankar Prasad after Twitter temporarily denies access to his account

Relations between the government and Twitter have become strained over multiple instances in the past months.

Following the message, the Twitter allowed him access to the account. (File Photo)

Amid an intensified public spat between Twitter and the government over the new IT Rules, Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad Friday tweeted that the microblogging platform had denied him access to his account for almost an hour alleging a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of the USA.

In one of the screenshots shared by the Union Minister, Twitter told him that his account was locked following a DMCA notice for content posted on his account. “Under the DMCA, copyright owners can notify Twitter claiming that a user has infringed their copyrighted works. Upon receipt of a valid DMCA notice, Twitter will remove the identified material,” said Twitter, as per the screenshot shared by the minister. He added that his account was subsequently restored.

Launching a blistering attack, Prasad said, “Twitter’s actions were in gross violation of Rule 4(8) of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 where they failed to provide me any prior notice before denying me access to my own account.”

He further said that “it is apparent that his statements calling out the high handedness and arbitrary actions of Twitter, particularly sharing the clips of his interviews to TV channels and its powerful impact, have clearly ruffled its feathers.”

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Relations between the government and Twitter have become strained over multiple instances in the past months, including during the farmers’ protest. It was also visible when the microblogging platform tagged political posts of several leaders of the ruling party BJP as “manipulated media”, triggering a sharp rebuke from the Centre.

Granting Prasad access to his account, Twitter, in another message, warned that his account would be locked again and potentially suspended if any additional notices are received against it. “In order to avoid this, do not post additional materials in violation of our Copyright Policy and immediately remove any material from your account for which you are not authorised to post,” it added.

Further attacking the microblogging platform, the Union minister said that it is now apparent as to why Twitter is refusing to comply with the Intermediary Guidelines because “if Twitter does comply, it would be unable to arbitrarily deny access to an individual’s account which does not suit their agenda.”

Also Read |Explained: What the loss of safe harbour means for Twitter

Insisting that he has not committed any copyright violation of any sort, Prasad said, “…in the past several years, no television channel or any anchor has made any complaints about copyright infringements with regard to these news clips of my interviews shared on social media.”

He added that Twitter’s 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, with the threat that if you do not tow the line they draw, they will arbitrarily remove you from their platform.”

Prasad, however, maintained that no matter what a platform does, “they are to abide by the new IT Rules fully with no scope for a compromise.”

The US Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 creates a “safe harbour” (or exemption) for online service providers, exempting them from manually vetting or automatically filtering out copyright infringement. This places the burden on copyright holders to request the removal of violations. The law criminalises production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures that control access to copyrighted works.

Meanwhile, Congress MP and chairman of the parliamentary panel on Information Technology Shashi Tharoor said that the same thing happened with him and the standing committee will be seeking an explanation from the social media firm over the temporary locking of their accounts and the rules it follows while operating in India. He said one of his tweets has been deleted by Twitter because its video included the copyrighted BoneyM song”Rasputin”.

Last week, Prasad had said that the microblogging platform had “deliberately chosen” not to comply with new intermediary guidelines despite being given “multiple opportunities”. His remarks came after Ministry officials suggested that Twitter India no longer enjoyed legal protection.

He also criticised Twitter for what he called its “arbitrariness in fighting fake news” and “its inconsistency in fighting misinformation”.

The minister further warned that “if any foreign entity believes that they can portray itself as the flag bearer of free speech in India to excuse itself from complying with the laws of the land, such attempts are misplaced”.

Also Read |Explained: Social media and safe harbour

Sources in the Ministry had told The Indian Express last week that Twitter had failed to appoint executives in the roles of resident grievance officer, nodal officer, and chief compliance officer as per norms of the government.

Guidelines issued in February required all significant social media intermediaries to designate Indian resident executives as resident grievance officer, nodal contact person, and chief compliance officer by May 26.

And on May 26, the Ministry wrote to these intermediaries, asking them to furnish details of all appointments made as soon as possible. Over the next week, all major social media intermediaries complied.

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