Rule of land supreme, not your policy: Parliamentary panel to Twitter India officials

Twitter and the Centre have been at loggerheads over several issues for the last few months
Last Updated 18 June 2021, 16:53 IST

Amid a tussle between the Union government and Twitter over the new IT rules, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on IT on Friday told the US-based social media giant that the rule of the land was supreme and the company must abide by the Indian laws.

During a 90-minute deposition before the panel, chaired by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, the Twitter India officials were asked "tough and searching questions", including why the company should not be fined as it has been found "violating" rules of the country, sources said.

Twitter India's public policy manager Shagufta Kamran and legal counsel Ayushi Kapoor deposed before the parliamentary panel.

Later in a statement, a Twitter Spokesperson said the company "stands prepared to work with the Committee on the important work of safeguarding citizens' rights online in line with our principles of transparency, freedom of expression, and privacy."

"We will also continue working alongside the Indian Government as part of our shared commitment to serve and protect the public conversation", the spokesperson said while appreciating the opportunity to share views of Twitter before the Standing Committee on Information Technology.

BJP MPs --Nishikant Dubey, Rajyawardan Rathore, Tejasvi Surya, Sanjay Seth, Zafar Islam, Subhash Chandra-- were among those present during the meeting while from the opposition there were TMC MP Mahua Moitra and TDP MP Jaidev Galla apart from Tharoor.

During the meeting, panel members mostly from ruling BJP asked Twitter officials whether their policy is more important or rule of land, to which officials responded that they respect the Indian laws but they have to follow their policy as well for larger interest, sources said.

The panel members took strong objection to Twitter stance and categorically told them that the rule of land is supreme not the company policy, sources said.

As per sources, there was unanimity in the panel that the Twitter should abide by IT rules and appoint chief compliance officer.

"The answers (by Twitter officials) lacked clarity and were ambiguous", a source said.

It was also raised by the MPs in the meeting that instead of appointing a full-time compliance officer, Twitter has appointed an interim officer, who is a lawyer, sources said.

According to sources, Dubey also raised question over neutrality of fact-checks on Twitter and claimed that many of them are not "politically neutral".

The parliamentary panel had last week summoned Twitter over issues related to misuse of the platform and protection of citizens' rights.

According to sources, the opposition members opined that another round of meeting should be held with Twitter officials, but the panel has sought written reply from Twitter on various questions.

The panel members also held a meeting with Information and Technology Ministry officials after the deposition.

Earlier this month, the Central government issued a notice to Twitter, giving it one last chance to "immediately" comply with the new IT rules and warned that failure to adhere to the norms will lead to the platform losing exemption from liability under the IT Act.

Sources said the panel will also summon top officials of Google, Facebook, YouTube and other tech giants.

Twitter and the Centre have been at loggerheads over several issues for the last few months.

The microblogging site had also faced backlash when it briefly removed the 'blue tick' verification badge from the personal account of Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu and of several senior RSS functionaries, including its chief Mohan Bhagwat.

Earlier, Delhi Police had sent a notice to Twitter, seeking an explanation of how it described an alleged "Congress toolkit" against the Central government as "manipulated media".

The police reportedly had also questioned Twitter India MD Manish Maheshwari on May 31 and visited the Twitter India offices in Delhi and Gurgaon on May 24 over the toolkit issue.

(Published 18 June 2021, 13:12 IST)

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