NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) – Twitter pledged to fully comply with India’s new Internet regulations, caving in to a dispute with the government over rules that critics say curtail privacy and free speech.
The United States social media giant has appointed an interim chief compliance officer, will name a grievance officer by July 11 and set up an India office in eight weeks, a lawyer for the company told the Delhi High Court on Thursday (July 8).
These are some of the requirements under Intermediary rules issued by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in February.
Facebook, WhatsApp, Google and others have already made the appointments and started generating user grievance reports, as required by the new rules.
Twitter, which was involved in a ferocious confrontation with Electronics and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad over the rules, was holding out.
Mr Prasad resigned from the ministry this week and his successor, Wharton graduate Ashwini Vaishnaw, was quoted by the Indian wire PTI as saying that those who live and work in India will have to obey the country’s laws.
Officials have demanded Facebook and Twitter take down hundreds of posts this year, divulge sensitive user information and submit to a regulatory regime that includes potential jail terms for executives if companies fail to comply.
While the government accuses social media companies of infringing on the nation’s digital sovereignty, tech companies say the rules violate users’ rights to privacy.
The administration’s push to exert more control over user data and online discourse reflects efforts globally to come to grips with tech giants and their enormous influence.
The stakes in India are particularly high for Internet firms because – shut out of China – it is the only billion-people market up for grabs.
Critics fear that actions taken by the world’s largest democracy could offer a template for other governments to encroach on personal privacy in the name of domestic security.
The court directed Twitter to give a statement on oath saying that the company intends to comply with the rules. The government will be free to take action against the company if the rules are not complied with, Justice Rekha Palli said in the order.
Several online news companies in the country have challenged the new rules, saying they can lead to surveillance and censorship. This includes Quint Digital Media which operates BloombergQuint, a joint venture with Bloomberg Media Group that is a division of Bloomberg.
On Friday, India’s top court will consider the government’s request to decide on the issue instead of leaving it to multiple high courts.
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