Govt tells Twitter to ‘stop beating around the bush’ and comply with laws

A day after WhatsApp moved the HC, Ravi Shankar Prasad says that the Centre respects right to privacy.

A day after WhatsApp moved the Delhi High Court against the Centre’s recent IT rules, Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, Communication and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday said the Central government fully recognises and respects the right of privacy, adding that ordinary WhatsApp users have nothing to fear about the new rules.

Meanwhile, The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) on Thursday responded to Twitter’s statement expressing concern over the “potential threat to freedom of expression in India and intimidation tactics by the police”. The government told the social media giant to “stop beating around the bush” and “comply with the laws of the land”.

The government said it strongly controverts the claims made by Twitter on Thursday in its press release. “India has a glorious tradition of free speech and democratic practices dating back centuries… We condemn Twitter’s statement as baseless, false and an attempt to defame India to hide their follies.” In a fiery statement, the government said, “Twitter’s statement is an attempt to dictate its terms to the world’s largest democracy. Through its actions and deliberate defiance, Twitter seeks to undermine India’s legal system.”

Earlier during the day, Twitter said that it will comply with Indian laws, but was concerned by “the use of intimidation tactics by the police”. Twitter’s statement says, “Twitter is committed to the people of India. Our service has proved to be important for public interaction and has supported people during the epidemic. We will try to follow the applicable law in India to continue our service.”

Significantly, on Tuesday, Google and Facebook have said that they are working towards implementing these new rules.

According to the government’s new IT rules, it will be mandatory for media companies to appoint an India-focused grievance redressal officer, compliance officer, and nodal officer, to address the complaints of social media users.

WhatsApp, meanwhile, said that the privacy of users will be affected by the new rules. In a statement issued by the messaging app, it has been said that in the new guidelines of the government, it has asked (WhatsApp) to trace the chat and find the originator of the message, if required. This will break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally weaken people’s right to privacy.

Taking to microblogging site Koo, Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday said that the objective of the new IT rules is to find out who started the message that led to the commissioning of specific crimes. “Government fully recognises and respects the right of privacy. 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 said.

The minister said the obligation to reveal the first originator of an offensive message already in circulation relates only to offences relating to “sovereignty, integrity and security of India, public order, rape, and child sexual abuse” and that too when other less intrusive measures are not effective.

“The new rules require the social media companies to set up an India based grievance redressal officer, compliance officer and the nodal officer so that millions of users of social media who have a grievance get a forum for its redressal,” Prasad noted.

“The new Rules are only designed to prevent abuse and misuse of social media. Government welcomes criticism including the right to ask questions. The Rules only empower the ordinary users of social media when they become victims of abuse and misuse,” he added.

Under the recently notified Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, social media intermediaries with more than 5 million users and providing messaging services will have to enable the identification of the first originator of problematic content that may harm the country’s interests. WITH AGENCY INPUTS