We recognise, respect right to privacy: Centre
Union electronics and information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday maintained the government “fully recognises and respects the right of privacy” and said the new rules for intermediaries were designed to empower citizens and prevent the “abuse and misuse” of social media.
His remarks came as Twitter became the second internet giant to oppose the rules, saying it presented a threat to the right to free speech and expression of its users. A day before, WhatsApp challenged the rules in the Delhi high court, saying it risked a dangerous invasion of privacy.
“The new Rules require the social media companies to set up an India-based grievance redressal officer, compliance officer and nodal officer so that millions of users of social media who have a grievance get a forum for its redressal,” Prasad posted on Koo, a micro-blogging website similar to Twitter, billed as an Indian alternative to the US-based service.
Prasad said ordinary users of WhatsApp have nothing to fear about the new rules. “Its entire objective is to find out who started the message that led to commissioning of specific crimes mentioned in the Rules.”
He clarified the “obligation to reveal” the first originator of an offensive message already in circulation “relates only to offences relating to sovereignty, integrity & security of India, public order, rape, child sexual abuse”. “That too when other less intrusive measures are not effective.”
The government on Wednesday wrote to social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter to send details of their compliance officers, nodal contact persons, resident grievance officers and physical contact addresses in India. It asked them to confirm if they have complied with the new Information Technology Act guidelines after the deadline to do so ended on Tuesday. None of these companies have complied yet, with Facebook being the first on Tuesday to hint at some “issues that need to be discussed”.
The controversial guidelines direct the companies to put in place a new mechanism to regulate content, appoint officers who will be liable for compliance, and adopt features such as traceability of messages and voluntary user verification.
WhatsApp has a resident grievance officer. It is yet to appoint a compliance officer. Twitter and Facebook have not appointed anyone yet.
Prasad’s ministry separately released a statement against Twitter, after the company said it was concerned about the potential threat to the freedom of expression of its users, as well as about its employees. “Twitter’s statement is an attempt to dictate its terms to the world’s largest democracy,” the ministry said in a press statement. “Twitter refuses to comply with those very regulations in the Intermediary Guidelines on the basis of which it is claiming a safe harbour protection from any criminal liability in India... Government condemns the unfortunate statement issued by Twitter as totally baseless, false and an attempt to defame India to hide their own follies,” it added.
The government stated that Twitter had allowed the “geo-location of Ladakh to be shown in China, treated the violence at Capitol Hill and Red Fort differently, promoted vaccine hesitancy and allowed the use of the term Indian variant for the Covid strain despite WHO guidelines against it”.
It charged the microblogging website of “not taking action against fake narratives” and propagating “grandiose claims of serving the people of India”.
“India has a glorious tradition of free speech and democratic practices dating back centuries. Protecting free speech in India is not the prerogative of only a private, for-profit, foreign entity like Twitter,” the ministry said.