India needs clearer personal data protection law to tame Twitter, others

In India, Twitter is in the eye of storm for not complying often with the new IT (intermediary) Rules, 2021.
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New Delhi: The latest Centre-Twitter legal battle over repeated content blocking orders by the IT Ministry has brought an old debate to the fore -- is the country finally ready to penalise foreign intermediaries and social media platforms for not obeying the law of the land or is there still a long way to go?

Unlike the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (EU GDPR), and tougher cyber laws in countries like Singapore, South Korea and Australia, the Indian government is using several agencies to tame social media platforms in the absence of a nodal cyber regulator that separately deals with Big Tech.

In India, Twitter is in the eye of storm for not complying often with the new IT (intermediary) Rules, 2021.

The micro-blogging platform even witnessed a police raid on its offices in Delhi and Gurugram related to the alleged Congress toolkit controversy last year.

Twitter was at loggerheads with the Indian government last year over removal of certain posts and being compliant with the intermediary guidelines under the IT Act.

As and when the government sends stern notices to Twitter, Google, YouTube and Meta (formerly Facebook) under the available laws (like Section 69A of the IT Act, 2000) to remove controversial content, the platforms immediately knock at the door of the courts, resulting in zero action.

The tussle between Twitter, WhatsApp/Facebook and the government has reached its nadir, and the fact is that an absence of a stricter personal data protection law is forcing the concerned authorities to take routes like writing heaps of notices that have resulted in zero action to date, while social networking giants continue to take the country for a ride.

According to experts, while the government can initiate action for suspension or blocking of intermediary apps or websites if they fail to comply with its directions over various issues under current laws, a strong data protection law is what can tame the social media platforms, the way the GDPR in the EU has achieved.

In case Twitter fails to comply with the government directions, the latter has the powers to resort to penal consequences.

"In that direction, appropriate FIRs can be registered against intermediaries and service providers and their top management can also be made liable for the said contravention under Section 85 of the IT Act, 2000," Pavan Duggal, one of the country's top cyber law experts, noted.

The government can exercise its power under Section 69(A)(1). In case, any service provider or intermediary fails to comply with the provisions of the same, there are penal consequences prescribed under Section 69A(3) too.

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