Twitter denies access to IT Minister's account for 1 hr; Prasad slams platform's arbitrariness

·5-min read

New Delhi, Jun 25 (PTI) Amid its strained relations with the Indian government, Twitter on Friday briefly blocked IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad from accessing his account over alleged violation of the US copyright law - a move that was immediately slammed by him as being arbitrary and against IT rules.

This is the first instance of a Twitter account of a Union Minister getting blocked.

While the exact nature of the violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was not immediately known, Prasad could not access his account '@rsprasad' on Friday morning even though the Twitter account of the minister was visible for public viewing.

The access was unlocked about an hour later with a warning that the account may be locked again or potentially suspended in case of any additional notices against the account.

Lashing out at Twitter, Prasad -- in a series of posts on rival social media platform Koo -- said it was apparent that his statements calling out the 'high handedness and arbitrary actions' of Twitter had ruffled feathers.

'Friends! Something highly peculiar happened today. Twitter denied access to my account for almost an hour on the alleged ground that there was a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of the USA and subsequently they allowed me to access the account,' Prasad wrote. He also tweeted on the issue.

The temporary locking of the IT Minister's Twitter account comes at a time when the US-based digital giant has been engaged in a tussle with the Indian government over the new social media rules.

The government has slammed Twitter for deliberate defiance and failure to comply with the country's new IT rules, which has led to the microblogging platform losing its legal shield as an intermediary in India and becoming liable for users posting any unlawful content.

'It is apparent that my statements calling out the high handedness and arbitrary actions of Twitter, particularly sharing the clips of my interviews to TV channels and its powerful impact, have clearly ruffled its feathers,' the minister said.

He went on to say that it is now obvious why Twitter is refusing to comply with the intermediary guidelines and added 'because if Twitter does comply, it would be unable to arbitrarily deny access to an individual's account which does not suit their agenda'.

Twitter's actions are in gross violation of IT Rules, where they failed to provide any prior notice before denying access to the account, the minister pointed out.

'Twitter's actions indicate that they are not the harbinger of free speech that they claim to be but are only interested in running their own agenda, with the threat that if you do not toe the line they draw, they will arbitrarily remove you from their platform,' Prasad said.

The minister made it clear that platforms will have to abide by the new IT rules fully and warned that there will be no compromise on that.

Sources said that this morning, Twitter denied the IT Minister access to his own account on the platform. Though the Twitter account of the Minister was visible for public viewing, Twitter did not permit anyone authorised to access this account to log in or make any post.

When the minister and his team tried to log in to the Twitter account @rsprasad, it displayed a message “Your account has been locked because Twitter received a compliant Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) Notice for content posted to your Twitter account'.

Under the DMCA copyright, owners can notify Twitter claiming that a user has infringed their copyrighted works, the message read.

'Upon receipt of a valid notice, Twitter will remove the identified material. Twitter maintains a repeat copyright infringer policy under which repeat infringer accounts will be suspended. Accruing multiple DMCA strikes may lead to suspension of your account,' the message said.

About an hour later, Twitter unlocked access to the account by posting a warning message to the Minister's account stating, “Your account is now available for use. Please be aware that any additional notices against your account may result in your account being locked again and potentially suspended'.

It further said, 'In order to avoid this, do not post additional material in violation of our Copyright Policy and immediately remove any material from your account for which you are not authorised to post”.

The sources said Twitter neither gave any prior intimation before blocking access to the account nor specified any content that was found violating the US laws on copyright.

The new IT rules clearly stipulate that whenever content that does not belong to the user is shared on a social media platform, the intermediary must ensure that prior to removing or disabling access, it has provided the user (sharing such content) with a notification explaining the action being taken and the reasons behind the move.

In all such cases, the platform must provide the user with an adequate and reasonable opportunity to dispute the action being taken.

Twitter clearly has not followed this provision of the IT rules before locking access to the Twitter account of Prasad, the IT Ministry sources said.

The sources claimed that it was obvious that Twitter was not comfortable with the minister's posts criticising the platform for non-compliance with the IT Rules and hence it threatened the IT Minister by denying access to his account for about an hour for alleged violation of copyright law of the US.

The issue that further needs to be deliberated in this context is whether India should be guided by the US copyright laws or its own copyright laws, they argued.

The sources questioned how a multinational platform like Twitter, which proclaims itself as the flag bearer of free speech can invoke American laws in India to curtain free speech of a senior minister of the government.

Twitter had not fully complied with the new rules, called intermediary Guidelines, that mandate setting up a grievance redressal mechanism and appointing officers to coordinate with law enforcement.

The rules became effective from May 26 and Twitter, even after the expiry of the additional time, had not appointed the requisite officers, leading to it losing the 'safe harbour' immunity.

Twitter and the government have been at loggerheads over multiple instances in the past months, including during the farmers' protest and later when the microblogging platform tagged political posts of several leaders of the ruling party BJP as 'manipulated media', triggering a sharp rebuke from the Centre. PTI MBI ANZ BAL BAL

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