NEW DELHI: Twitter has lost the coveted “safe harbour” immunity in India over its failure to appoint statutory officers on the company’s role in line with the new IT rules, and its top executives, including the country managing director, could now face police questioning and criminal liability under IPC over ‘unlawful’ and ‘inflammatory’ content posted on the platform by any user.
With this, Twitter becomes the only American platform to have lost the protective shield – granted under Section 79 of the IT Act, even though others such as Google, YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram remain protected, official sources said.
“The company had been given extra time to comply with the guidelines, but it has failed to fall in line with the new IT Rules despite our repeated indulgence, including an extension. With this, Twitter has lost its safe harbour protection, and now stands exposed to action under the IPC for any third-party unlawful content,” a government source told TOI.
Companies had to originally appoint the officers by May 25, but many were delayed as they blamed the Coronavirus-induced lockdown and closures, and other technical challenges for their failure to comply with the rules. Twitter had made certain appointments initially, but these were summarily rejected by the government as they were external legal consultants or people not directly employed on the rolls of the company’s US parent.
When contacted, a spokesperson for Twitter in India told TOI that it has appointed an “interim” chief compliance officer, adding that details had still not been shared with the IT ministry and this would happen “soon”.
“We are keeping the IT Ministry apprised of the progress at every step of the process. An interim chief compliance officer has been retained and details will be shared with the Ministry directly soon. Twitter continues to make every effort to comply with the new Guidelines,” the spokesperson said.
The Ministry said, however, that it is yet to receive any details from the company. “We have not got any details from Twitter,” a source said.
The government clearly looks unhappy at the steps initiated by the company, especially as it believes that repeated reminders and even the temporary relaxation – which was extended as a “goodwill gesture” — did not yield much result.
The government had on June 5 issued “one last notice” to Twitter, asking it to comply with the statutory provisions under the new IT Rules or else risk losing legal immunity from any third-party content posted on the platform. The company had then assured the government that it would make the appointment in a week, though the government still awaits an intimation in this regard.