Union law and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Wednesday said the new IT guidelines for social media intermediaries are aimed at protecting ordinary Indians against the abuse of social media.
“The guidelines don’t deal with use of social media but its abuse and misuse,” he said in an exclusive interview to India Today TV.
Speaking about the ongoing controversy involving Twitter and its clash with the central government, Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government had given Twitter three months to comply with the new rules.
“Most major social media intermediaries have complied but Twitter has not, despite being given an additional one week as a goodwill gesture,” he said.
Elaborating on the matter, the minister said TikTok and other apps were banned due to concerns of national security and data privacy of Indians.
“In the case of Twitter, we framed guidelines pursuant to two Supreme Court verdicts, two parliamentary recommendations and suggestions from the public. The guidelines are aimed at giving voice to the ordinary social media users against abuse,” he said.
“If a harassed mother comes to me complaining that the ex-boyfriend of her daughter is intimidating her daughter by threatening to make intimate photos of her viral, what should I do? Ask her to go to the US and complain, as Twitter says? Twitter’s stand on this was that we (Indian government) has no authority on it and all the matter will be decided in the US,” Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
What Govt Has Asked Twitter To Do
Responding to a question on what the guidelines entail, the minister said the government has asked social media platforms to appoint a grievance redressal officer in India with proper address; appoint a nodal officer to contact with law-enforcing authorities; and have a compliance officer in India to ensure that a grievance is redressed within a fortnight and the government is informed about the number of cases resolved on a monthly basis.
“Are we asking for anything else? We are not,” he claimed.
Twitter Hasn’t Complied Yet: Prasad
Asked about the present status on whether Twitter has complied with the guidelines, Ravi Shankar Prasad said it hasn’t.
“They said they will do within a week but they haven’t. I believe they have given a name but the address etc. is not there.”
When asked if Twitter will lose exemption under Section 79 of the IT Act, he said rule 7 of the new guidelines framed under section 87 of the IT Act clearly states that if you do not follow these guidelines, then you will lose section 79 status and other attendant penal law consequences.
“The withdrawal or extinction of your status as an intermediary becomes effective because of the operation of law itself,” he said.
Asked specifically if Twitter is a social media intermediary as of today under Indian laws, Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “It is. I will never question their intermediary status. The issue is, do they enjoy the exemption of section 79 and what is that protection.”
“Twitter is a platform where people debate, discuss and people also defame etc. The exemption is that for issues arising out of the use of your platform, you will not be held responsible because you are having an exemption. The person who is wrongly using it will face the law. But do they have protection today? Don’t ask me the question. Read rule 7 of the guidelines,” he said.
Arguing further in support of the government’s stand, the minister said Indian companies who operate in the US have to follow the American law, and the same would apply to American companies operating in India.
“One is free to do business, make money, but just comply with the rule of the land. This must be very clear,” he said.
‘Ordinary WhatsApp Users Have Nothing To Worry’
In regard to WhatsApp, he said the information that the government is seeking from “does not involve any intrusion of privacy” and no intimate details are being asked.
“Ordinary WhatsApp users have nothing to fear. We are only seeking those messages that have already gone viral…which are causing mayhem and public unrest,” he said.