Twitter denies IT Min access to his account

Saturday, 26 June 2021 | Rajesh Kumar | New Delhi

Parl IT panel chief Tharoor too prevented from logging in

Amid an intensified public spat between Twitter India and the Government, Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad and Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology chairman Shashi Tharoor were on Friday denied access to their Twitter accounts for almost an hour. Twitter claimed they violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of the USA that the company adheres to for its own copyright policy.

Though the Twitter accounts of Prasad and Tharoor were visible for public viewing, Twitter did not permit anyone authorised to access this account to log in or make any post. This is the first instance that a Union Minister and a Parliamentary Panel chief’s Twitter account access has been blocked.

After Prasad’s claim, Tharoor said the same thing happened to him. “Ravi, the same thing just happened to me. Clearly DMCA is getting hyperactive.”

Twitter on Friday confirmed the claim of Prasad that it had denied access to his account for almost an hour. “We can confirm that the Minister’s account access was temporarily restricted due to a DMCA notice only and the referenced Tweet has been withheld,” Twitter said.

“As per our copyright policy, we respond to valid copyright complaints sent to us by a copyright owner or their authorised representatives,” a Twitter spokesperson said.

According to Twitter’s copyright policy, the company “will respond to reports of alleged copyright infringement”, including allegations concerned with the “unauthorised use of copyrighted video or image” uploaded on its platform.

In a screenshot shared by the Union Minister, Twitter informed him that his account has been locked following a complaint Digital Millennium Copyright Act Notice for content posted on his account.

Following the message, Twitter allowed him access to the account. Prasad took to Koo App and later on Twitter to share his experience. He said he was allowed access to the account later.

Tharoor said, “As chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, I can state that we will be seeking an explanation from @TwitterIndia for the locking of @rsprasad’s & my accounts & the rules & procedures they follow while operating in India.”

The Thiruvananthpuram MP, however, did not blame Twitter for the action, saying the microblogging platform “clearly had no choice but to honour a DMCA takedown notice, however stupid and pointless the request was”.

 “@Twitter  locked me out again because to explain the problem, the first tweet in this thread included the offending copyrighted video. Locking is a foolish response to a DCMA notice; disabling the video (which they’ve now done) should be enough. @Twitter  has a lot to learn,” Tharoor tweeted.

According to officials, when the Minister and his team tried to log in to the Twitter account @rsprasad Twitter showed a message saying, “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. 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.”

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. 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.”

Lashing out at Twitter, Prasad — in a series of posts on rival social media platform Koo and later on Twitter – said, “Twitter’s actions were in gross violation of Rule 4(8) of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 where they failed to provide me any prior notice before denying me access to my own account.

“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 further said, “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. The minister said the microblogging platform is warning people that if you do not tow the line it draws, it will arbitrarily remove you from the platform.

“No matter what any platform does, they will have to abide by the new IT Rules fully and there shall be no compromise on that,” he added.

“Further, it is now apparent as to why Twitter is refusing to comply with the Intermediary Guidelines because if Twitter does comply, it would be unable to arbitrarily deny access to an individual’s account which does not suit their agenda,” he said.

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

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act which Twitter and many other online platforms cite to suspend and ban accounts, is one of the old laws protecting intellectual property and copyright belonging to a person or an organisation.

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 has been at loggerheads with the Government over the new controversial social media and intermediary guidelines. The Government has pulled up the company for failing to comply with the guidelines.

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