With Twitter refusing to blink, the Indian government is letting law take its own course, which, according to a school of thought, could complicate things further for the US company as a parliamentary panel yesterday made it clear that the law of the land was supreme and needed to be followed.
Members of a parliamentary panel on Friday strongly objected to Twitter India officials’ observations that they abide by their policy and categorically told the US company reps that the rule of land was supreme.
Quoting unnamed sources, a PTI dispatch from New Delhi said members of the Parliamentary Panel on Information Technology also asked Twitter why it should not be fined as it has been found “violating” rules of the country.
Earlier this month, the Centre issued a notice to Twitter giving it one last chance to “immediately” comply with the new IT rules and warned that failure to adhere to the norms will lead to the platform losing exemption from liability under the IT Act.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information and Technology, chaired by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, had last week summoned Twitter over issues related to misuse of the platform and protection of citizens’ rights.
Twitter India’s public policy manager Shagufta Kamran and legal counsel Ayushi Kapoor deposed before the panel on Friday.
Members of the panel asked some tough and searching questions to Twitter India officials but the answers lacked clarity and were ambiguous, unnamed sources told PTI.
The policy-makers strongly objected to the observation of Twitter India officials that its policy was on par with the rule of land and categorically told them “rule of land is supreme, not your policy”.
Meanwhile, police in India have summoned Twitter’s top official in the country to answer allegations that the US firm failed to stop the spread of a video that allegedly incited “hate and enmity” between Hindu and Muslim communities, Reuters reported from Lucknow, capital of the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
An official police notice, seen by Reuters, showed a case had been registered in Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh state over a video of a few men, apparently Hindu, beating an elderly man believed to be a Muslim and cutting his beard.
The police report names Twitter Inc, its local unit and seven others for their alleged roles in disseminating a video that was deemed insulting to religious beliefs and causing public mischief .
The controversy comes just as India’s federal government is locking horns with Twitter over non-compliance with new IT rules, which have raised doubts whether the platform would continue to enjoy protection against legal liability for user-generated content. The new rules became effective in late May.
In a notice dated Thursday, Ghaziabad police wrote to Twitter India head Manish Maheshwari to appear before officials within seven days of the receipt of the summons. Several other people were also named in the complaint.
Twitter declined to comment, and Maheshwari did not respond to a request for comment by Reuters.
The June 15 police complaint states that the Ghaziabad Police had issued a statement with facts of the incident but despite that the accused did not remove the video from their Twitter handles, a PTI report said from Ghaziabad.
The police had also clarified that those who attacked the victim Saifi included Hindu as well as Muslim men and the incident was a result of personal issues between them and not a communal one, the PTI report quoted from the compliant.
“Besides this, Twitter Inc and Twitter Communications India did not take any measures to remove their tweets,” the complaint added.
The Ghaziabad Police has so far arrested nine people, including key accused Parvesh Gujjar, in the case, according to officials.
IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad lashed out at Twitter this week for the Ghaziabad incident, saying its failure to act was “perplexing.”
Prasad has said Twitter has not complied with a new set of government rules that required them to appoint new compliance officers by May 26.
The rules state that in case of non-compliance, protection that companies enjoy related to any liability against user generated content “shall not be applicable” and companies “shall be liable for punishment under any law.”
“The moment Twitter was non-compliant, the safe harbour protection was automatically not available,” said Shlok Chandra, a New Delhi-based lawyer who represents the federal government in various cases. “The position is very clear.”
Some free speech activists and lawyers, however, disagree.
“The Central Government neither has the power to bestow, nor the power to ‘withdraw’ the exemption from liability…The determination of the question whether Twitter is entitled to seek exemption from liability is solely within the domain of the Courts,” Delhi-based Ira Law firm said in a LinkedIn post this month, according to a Reuters report.
Three special rapporteurs appointed by a top United Nations human rights body last week urged India to review the new IT rules, saying their broadened scope did not conform to international human rights norms and could threaten digital rights.