In the backdrop to the recent issues between Twitter India and the central government, Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday said that the India was proud of being the world's largest and the most vibrant democracy and the government welcomes criticism but non-compliance of law under the garb of freedom of speech and democracy is not acceptable.
The Union Minister in an exclusive interview to ANI also said that the social media platform should not "lecture us on democracy." He said that India has the distinction of being the world's largest and the most vibrant democracy and gave the example that the BJP won the Assam assembly polls but lost in West Bengal elections.
He said that in India the judiciary questions the government, the media questions senior ministers. "Today there are 100 crores users of Twitter in India. I am happy. Let them earn money. Allow users to criticize us. Most welcome. But when these profit making companies start lecturing us on democracy...." "I would like to ask a question- India is a democracy because it's elections are fair. We won Assam and lost Bengal recently. We have I dependent judiciary that keeps us asking questions like in case of Covid. We are following. Media asks tough questions from a senior minister. That's what freedom of speech and democracy is about. These issues are important. But under garb of these you think you won't comply then it's a misplaced argument," said the Union Minister.
This comes in the backdrop of the intermediary status of Twitter being removed and making the microblogging site liable under provisions, including the Indian Penal Code. "I am not the one who declared it (removal of Twitter's intermediary status), the law has. If others followed, why couldn't they? We asked for three officers to be appointed in three months and the period had exhausted on May 26. We gave them the last opportunity as goodwill gesture," union minister Prasad told ANI in an exclusive interview.
The microblogging site, the minister said, had failed to appoint executives in the roles of resident grievance officer, nodal officer and chief compliance officer as per norms of the government to deal with abuse and use of social media. "We gave them (Twitter) three months' time. Others have followed, they haven't. Rule 7 of (IT) guidelines says if you don't comply then under Sec 79 you may lose intermediary status and may become liable to other laws including penal laws of the country," Prasad said.
In his interview to ANI, the Union Law and Justice, Electronics and Information Technology and Communications Minister said that guidelines had been "a work in progress for the last three to four years." The minister said that Twitter's non-compliance with the new IT Rules means that it has lost its status as an intermediary, and now it can be held responsible for user-generated content.
Earlier Twitter was accorded protection as a third party intermediary under Section 79 of the Information Technology (IT) Act, which states that any intermediary shall not be held legally or otherwise liable for any third party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted on its platform. Other social media platforms such as, YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp continue to remain protected. "There were two judgements of the Supreme Court. One in Prajwala case of 2018 which said that sexual manifestation of women should be avoided and then Facebook case of 2019 September which said that if there are messages which lead to violence, riots etc, there should be mechanism. There were demands of the Parliament cutting across party divide in 2018 from me, against fake news, against all those entries depicting women in bad light. Then there were consultations after which we came up with these guidelines."
"The rule 7 of guidelines which says that if you don't comply, under section 79 you may lose your intermediary status. And you may become liable to other laws including penal laws. "If something is happening, it isn't because of me but because of law namely clause 7 of rules guidelines" the minister said.
Responding to a question about the intermediary status of Twitter being withdrawn even though the social media platform said that that it is in talks with the Government and is looking to open office to appoint officials, Prasad said, "Law has declared that Twitter doesn't enjoy intermediary status anymore. If others can follow the rules why can't they. We are asking it three officers only. Not asking for moon are we?" "They can also pick their own employees for interim arrangement. Point is the intent. When the period of six months exhausted on May 26, I further gave last opportunity as goodwill gesture. On establishment of office you can take a few weeks like clearance from RBI etc but who stops you? Do you have office or not , do you earn as revenue or not," added the Union Minister.
The Union Minister said that any company which wants to operate in a another has to follow that country's laws. "When Indian companies do business or pharma companies go to manufacture in US, do they follow American laws or not? If you have to do business here, you're welcome to criticize the Prime Minister, all of us... but you've to obey India's constitution and rules," the minister said.
Asked whether there will be a ban in Twitter in India, the Union Minister said, "If half of Government is on Twitter, PM and President is on Twitter, I am on Twitter that shows how fair we are. But norms are norms. We are not for banning any platforms but you have to follow the law." "We don't want that all messages to be decrypted. It is my word that all ordinary users of WhatApp can continue to use it, be it private conversations between wife and husband, girlfriend - boyfriend friends , doctor - patients, lawyers- clients, journalist- sources. We are seeking that if any content has become viral which is causing mob lynching, riots, killing of people, showing women in nudity, sexual exploitation of children only in these limited category, you will be asked to declare who started the mischief.
"And if viral messages causing mayhem in India which originated across the border then who started it in India. This is in imminent public interest," added Prasad.