The Delhi High Court on Monday (July 5, 2021) gave an earful to the social media giant Twitter after it failed to appoint a Resident Grievance Officer (RGO) in compliance with the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. “If Twitter thinks that they can take as much time as it wants in our country, then I will not permit that. You should have taken some firm steps to appoint the officer,” the High Court said.
Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma appearing for the Centre said that Twitter was given a three-month window to comply with the Rules, but they did not.
“They are most welcome to do business in India, but they have to comply. Rule 4 is the fulcrum of the IT Rules,” he said.
Chetan Sharma further told the court that the attitude of Twitter in not complying with the IT Rules cocks a snook in the digital sovereignty of the country.
“Forty-two days and no compliance and we have done nothing. Facebook has removed three core contents. Twitter could have done better,” Sharma added.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India earlier informed the Delhi High Court in an affidavit that despite granting 3 months to comply with the IT Rules, Twitter has failed to comply with the same, and such non-compliance is leading to Twitter losing its immunity conferred under Section 79(1) of the IT Act.
Section 79(1) of the IT Act provides the immunity of safe harbor. It states that an intermediary shall not be liable for any third-party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted by him, therefore providing safe harbor protection.
Twitter, which is weeks past its deadline to comply with new IT Rules requiring social media sites to appoint India-based officers, said its interim grievance officer resigned and they were in the process of appointing one.
Justice Rekha Palli said that Twitter, represented by Senior Counsel Sajjan Poovaya, has misled the court, and given the wrong impression that it has appointed a resident grievance officer mandated under the new IT rules. “This is a very serious, interesting position. You did not tell the court that you appointed an interim office. The rules are binding are you,” the court said. This came in response to the affidavit filed by Twitter which had said that it had appointed an interim Resident Grievance Officer on May 29, however, he resigned on June 21.
Advocate Sajjan Poovaya said that he could not contact the company’s officials in San Francisco due to the difference in time zone. Following this, the court gave Twitter time till Thursday (July 8, 2021) to inform as to by when they can appoint the grievance officers.
“Perusal of the reply shows that as of May 31 Twitter had only appointed an Interim Grievance Officer. I am informed that the company is still in the process of appointing a Grievance Officer. When asked how much time such appointment will be made, counsel has no instructions. He seeks more time as the zone of the company is in San Francisco,” the order noted
The Judge also asked Twitter to take instructions on the compliance of the order guidelines of the IT Rules saying that at least the progress and the steps should be known to everyone. “Get clear instructions or you will be in trouble,” she said.