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IT Minister RS Prasad’s personal Twitter account temporarily locked

Twitter on Friday afternoon locked Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s personal account over violation of copyright laws. The account was later unlocked, the minister 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,” Prasad tweeted from his account after it was unlocked.

Why was the account locked?

“Twitter denied access to my account for almost an hour on the alleged ground that there was a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of the USA and subsequently they allowed me to access the account,” Prasad tweeted.

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Twitter had sent a notice to Prasad saying his account was locked because the platform received a complaint under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) for content posted on his account. Under the act, copyright owners can notify Twitter if any user has infringed their copyrighted works and Twitter will remove the identified material if the notice is valid. The Indian government in 2018 acceded to the WIPO treaties of which the DMCA is a result.

What was RS Prasad’s response?

In addition to saying that Twitter is in violation of the IT Rules, Prasad said 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.”

“Further, 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,” he added.

“No matter what any platform does they will have to abide by the new IT Rules fully and there shall be no compromise on that,” Prasad concluded.

What was the content violating copyright rules?

It is not yet clear what posts violated the copyright rules but it appears to be certain news clippings shared by the minister. “It is apparent that my statements calling out the high handedness and arbitrary actions of Twitter, particularly sharing the clips of my interviews to TV channels and its powerful impact, have clearly ruffled its feathers,” Prasad tweeted.

“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.

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Twitter’s tussle with the government over the IT Rules

Twitter is yet to fully comply with the IT Rules 2021. Last week, multiple reports citing unnamed government sources stated that Twitter has lost its status as an intermediary for failing to comply with the rules. RS Prasad tweeted then saying that despite being given multiple opportunities to comply, “the simple fact of the matter is that Twitter has failed to comply with the Intermediary Guidelines.” But Prasad stopped short of saying that Twitter has lost the intermediary status.

Among other things, the new rules require significant social media intermediaries like Twitter to appoint a nodal contact person, resident grievance officer, and chief compliance officer (CCO). The CCO will be liable for any proceedings against the intermediary.

Twitter on May 31 told the Delhi High Court that it has appointed a grievance redressal officer in line with the new rules. However, a “last notice” letter sent by the government to Twitter on June 5 highlighted that—

  • Twitter has not informed about the details of the Chief Compliance Officer as required under the Rules
  • Resident Grievance Officer and Nodal Contact Person nominated by Twitter Inc is not an employee of the platform
  • The office address of Twitter Inc is of a law firm in India

Part II Rule 4 of the rules state that the three managerial roles must be filled by employees of the intermediary who are residents of India. Twitter responded by saying that it has appointed a nodal contact person and resident grievance officer on a contractual basis as an interim measure and will recruit to fill the positions on a permanent basis. It also stated that it is finalizing the appointment of a CCO and physical address in India and will share the details of the same within a week. A source also told PTI on June 8 that “Twitter has written to Meity seeking more time to comply with the IT rules. It has expressed its intent to comply with the rules but has been unable to do so because of the pandemic.”

On June 15, Twitter said it has appointed an interim CCO and the details of the same will be shared with the IT Ministry soon.

Twitter’s careers page currently lists openings for Nodal Officer, Resident Grievance Officer, Chief Compliance Officer. All three listings state that the candidate must be a resident of India.

Twitter facing battle on multiple fronts

Manipulated media case: Delhi police served a notice and visited two offices of Twitter in May in connection with an alleged Indian National Congress-created toolkit. Twitter had labelled tweets of BJP politicians including spokesperson Sambit Patra and others on the alleged toolkit prepared by Congress as “manipulated media.” The tweets alleged that Congress had created this toolkit to defame the Prime Minister and “undermine” the government’s Covid-19 vaccination policy. Soon after, Delhi Police sent a notice to Twitter seeking clarification on the usage of the term “manipulated media” since the matter was under investigation.

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Ghaziabad case: Last week, the Uttar Pradesh police lodged an FIR against Twitter and others in connection with tweets on an elderly man who was allegedly assaulted in Ghaziabad. Twitter was named as an accused in the case as it had allegedly failed to delete ‘provocative’ tweets despite clarification regarding the matter by Ghaziabad Police. Later, the Ghaziabad Police sent a legal notice to the Managing Director of Twitter India in connection with the case, asking the official to himself in the Loni Border station within a week. However, the Karnataka High Court on Thursday passed an interim order restraining the Uttar Pradesh Police from initiating any coercive action against Twitter Communications India Private Ltd’s Manish Maheshwari.

Standing Committee notice: The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information and Technology asked Twitter to appear before them on June 18 on the subject of safeguarding citizen rights and misuse of social media/news platforms. Twitter reportedly accepted before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology that it gives priority to its own laid down policies over Indian law in cases of conflict, which led the panel to conclude that the social media company was in violation of the IT Act, 2000. According to a report by Economic Times, the panel questioned Twitter India representatives on June 18 on various issues such as the appointment of a full-time compliance officer, its status of being an intermediary and so on for over 90 minutes. At the end of the meeting, the panel reportedly gave Twitter representatives queries to which the social media company has to provide answers soon.

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