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What loss of safe harbour means for Twitter?

Topics Covered: Internal security related issues.

What loss of safe harbour means for Twitter?


Context:

According to some media reports, Twitter has lost its intermediary status in India over non-compliance of the new IT rules that came into effect on May 26.

What does intermediary status mean?

As per Section 2 (1) of the Information Technology Act, an intermediary is a person/entity that receives, stores and transmits information or provides service for transmission of information.

  • This includes telecom service providers, network service providers, internet service providers, search engines, online payment sites, online-auction sites, online-marketplaces and even cyber cafes.

Please note, intermediary status is not a registration granted by the government.

Benefits of this status:

Intermediaries like Twitter are protected under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act that states that they cannot be held liable for the third party content published on their platform as long as they comply with the legal order to take down content from courts or other authorities.

What is safe harbour protection?

Consider, a user’s tweets go viral and that results in death or violence. Now, under safe harbour protection Twitter cannot be held liable just because of it. However, they will have to take down the content if they get a legal order from the court or authorities. This is what termed as safe harbour protection.

How does this impact Twitter, then?

In the short run, since the protection accorded to Twitter under Section 79 of the IT Act is now gone, it opens up the platform to the possibility of any and all penal action that is likely to be taken against it as a publisher of content.

  • This means that if someone puts out any content on Twitter that leads to some form of violence, or violates any Indian law with respect to content, not only the person that has put out the tweet will be held responsible, even Twitter will be legally liable for the content as it no longer has the protection.

Who will decide intermediary status?

It is the courts, not the government, who will decide on whether Twitter or other social media intermediaries can lose this status under law.

Why do platforms want safe harbour?

Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, which have millions of users, argue that they cannot possibly be aware of every post, just as the managing director of Amazon does not always know all the items being sold on the online marketplace.

  • As a result, they cannot be held liable. Removing safe harbour protections would mean that the platforms have to actively police and sensor whatever content is available on their services, which in turn could violate free speech and other fundamental rights.

What is the argument against safe harbour?

There’s an argument that by using ranking algorithms to determine what gets seen on their platforms, these firms are making editorial judgements.

 

InstaCurious: 

Do you know what passive intermediaries are? Read Here

 

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. Overview of the new rules.
  2. Who are intermediaries as per the definition?
  3. What is safe harbour protection?
  4. Grievance redressal mechanism as provided under the new rules.

Mains Link:

What are the concerns being raised against the new IT rules? Discuss ways to address these concerns.

Sources: Indian Express.