Twitter must follow law of the land: IT minister
New Delhi: The government’s new minister for electronics and information technology Ashwini Vaishnaw on Thursday said the law of the land is supreme, and Twitter will have to fall in line with the new social media and intermediary guidelines.
Vaishnaw’s remarks suggest he could continue his predecessor’s strong stance against the US-based company, which is yet to complete compliance requirements mandatory under the new rules.
“Law of land is supreme, Twitter must follow rules,” the Union minister said, according to a ministry spokesperson.
“Whoever is a citizen of India and those who stay in India will have to abide by the laws of the country,” he said while addressing journalists at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters.
Twitter, separately, told the Delhi High Court that it will appoint a grievance redressal officer in keeping with the new guidelines within eight weeks after the bench asked it to put on oath its stand in the matter, giving it two weeks’ time.
The ministry submitted in the court that if it did not comply, it will lose the safe harbour protection for user content under section 79, of the IT Act – which means it could become liable for content that users create.
Minister of state for MeitY Rajeev Chandrashekhar also told reporters that the issue will be addressed by the ministry and the new minister. “I have just taken the charge,” he said. “The ministry doesn’t operate on a unilateral basis and this has nothing to do with individual views and opinions. The ministry will sit with the new Union minister and address all these issues.”
Vaishnaw’s predecessor Ravi Shankar Prasad was locked in an escalating conflict with the social media company for over a month and half now. All clauses of the new guidelines came into effect on May 25, which included the appointment of an India-based grievance redressal and nodal officer and a compliance officer.
The ministry asserted that Twitter failed to appoint a compliance officer, and its grievance officer and address were not in keeping with the rules which demanded an Indian resident and local address. Prasad’s ministry threatened Twitter with the loss of safe harbour, which provides the company protection from action against third party content.
The government’s battle with Twitter began over blocking access to several accounts that carried a controversial hashtag, including accounts of activists and media professionals. Twitter refused to cede space on the implementation of its policies, as it said it was defending free speech.
The company, in turn, raised concerns regarding “intimidation tactics by the police” and with the “core elements” of the new social media and intermediary guidelines, prompting a strong response from the government which called the remarks an “attempt to dictate its terms”.
Twitter was also targeted by the government when it tagged posts by prominent BJP politicians Sambit Patra and Vinay Sahasrabuddhe as manipulated media, and briefly locked out Prasad from his account over an alleged copyright infringement.
The new IT minister joined the BJP as recently as 2019 after becoming a member of the Rajya Sabha. Vaishnaw, 51, has served as the private secretary to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2004, after serving a brief stint with the Prime Minister’s Office during Vajpayee’s term in 2002. He was educated at MBM Engineering College, Jodhpur, Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur and Wharton Business School. In 2006, he also served as the deputy chairman of Goa’s Mormugoa Port Trust.
“Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modiji’s vision is to transform the lives of the poor, marginalized communities, farmers, middle classes, youth, women and weaker sections of the society... Railways, Communication and Technology touch the lives of all Indians. I will work to fulfil the Prime Minister’s vision,” a government statement quoted Vaishnaw as saying.