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Twitter loses legal protection after failing to comply with new IT regulations

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The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules were published in February and went into effect on May 25, 2018. Twitter will be considered an intermediary if it does not follow the new Information Technology (IT) rules, and it will no longer be protected from penal action under Section 79 of the IT Act, which exempts social media firms from liability for third-party content, a government official said on Wednesday. 

“Now, if a complaint is filed in court, Twitter cannot seek refuge under the Information Technology Act. In any instance, if the claim is made after May 26, Twitter cannot claim to be an intermediary and claim an exception.” The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules were published in February and went into effect on May 25, 2018.

According to the official, as a gesture of goodwill, the government granted Twitter additional time to comply with the laws. However, Twitter has failed to fulfil even its deadline of a week to make the appointments required by the new regulations, according to the official. The person went on to say that the specifics of the compliance officer’s appointment had yet to be disclosed with the government. Twitter on Tuesday said it has appointed an interim chief compliance officer and the details of the appointment will be shared directly with the IT ministry. The judgement came after the government offered Twitter one final chance to comply with the new rules after the microblogging platform failed to make immediate important staff appointments, as required by the new standards, which took effect on May 26.

Twitter assured the government last week that it is in the advanced stages of finalising the appointment of the chief compliance officer and would submit additional details within a week. A Twitter spokesperson on Tuesday said the company continues to make every effort to comply with the new guidelines and is keeping the IT ministry apprised of progress at every step of the process.

This month, Twitter told the government that it was “committed to complying with the new laws,” even as it expressed worries about the safety of its employees in the nation and police intimidation. It sought a week to comply with the new restrictions after the government issued an ultimatum stating that Twitter will suffer “unintended consequences,” which may include losing legal protection from criminal prosecution for user material.

The recommendations urge firms like Twitter, WhatsApp, and Facebook to modify how they govern material, create nodal officials for compliance and grievance redressal, and include features like message tracking and the voluntary utmost discretion.

Twitter and the government have had disagreements over content takedown orders and the company’s actions against prominent people linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party for violation of its terms of use.

Against this backdrop, the new IT rules hardened the stand-off last month, with Twitter earlier asking for three months to comply, raising concerns over the “core elements” of the norms, and flagging potential threats to the safety of its employees after a visit by the Delhi Police.

Google, WhatsApp and Facebook have shared the details of the officers with the government. The new rules have been contested by several parties, including WhatsApp which has argued that the traceability provision mandated in the guidelines would violate end to end encryption.

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