The Delhi High Court Wednesday said Twitter Inc was non-compliant with the new Information Technology (IT) Rules and expressed displeasure over the microblogging platform appointing a “contingent worker” as Chief Compliance Officer (CCO).
Justice Rekha Palli noted that while the rules mandated appointment of a key managerial person or a senior employee as CCO, Twitter disclosed in its affidavit that it had appointed a “contingent worker” through a third party contractor.
“He (CCO) is categorical (in his affidavit) that he is not an employee. This itself is in the teeth of the rule. There has to be some seriousness about the rule. Some sanctity has to be given,” the court remarked.
The court added that it had reservations with respect to the usage of the term “contingent worker” by Twitter especially when it was not known who the third party contractor was.
“What is this contingent worker? I don't know what it would mean. I have a problem with the word. Contingent then third party contractor! What is this? I am not happy with the affidavit,” the judge told Twitter.
The court said Twitter's affidavit was unacceptable and asked it to comply with the rules whole-heartedly.
“File a better affidavit. This is not acceptable. I'm giving you a long rope but don't expect the court to do it on and on. Disclose the name of the third party contractor and explain contingent,” the court said as it granted a week's time to Twitter to file the new affidavit.
The court further directed Twitter to not only disclose all the details pertaining to the appointment of the CCO as well as the Resident Grievance Officer (RGO) but also clarify as to why a Nodal Contact Person had not been appointed yet and by when the position will be filled.
The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 seek to regulate dissemination and publication of content in cyber space, including social media platforms, and were notified in February by the central government.
Pursuant to the last order, Twitter Inc filed an affidavit before court, informing that it has appointed a resident of India as CCO, effective July 6.
Senior advocate Sajan Poovayya, representing Twitter, stated that while the CCO was a contingent worker, appointed via third party contractor, he has undertaken to perform all functions and responsibilities under the IT Rules.
Usage of the term contingent worker was on account of “structure of employment” and the fact that Twitter Inc did not have a liaison office in India, Poovayya said as he added that the platform would no longer appoint “interim” officers to the posts.
It was reiterated that the process for establishing a liaison office on ongoing.
The person appointed as CCO would also act as the RGO, effective July 7, Poovayya said.
In the affidavit, Twitter has stated that while one Vinay Prakash has been appointed to the two positions as contingent worker via third party contractor, it “has posted publicly a job announcement” for CCO and RGO as “direct employee” and that it “will make endeavour in good faith to make an offer of employment to a qualified candidate who is resident in India to fill this position in 8 weeks”.
Poovayya further submitted that the Nodal Contact Person was yet to be appointed and sought two weeks from the court for the appointment.
“I don't know what you want to do. If you want to (comply with the rules), do it whole-heartedly,” the judge responded.
Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma, appearing for the Central government, argued that Twitter was acting in “abject non-compliance of the rules” as the CCO has to be an employee of the social media intermediary and not a contingent worker.
“It has been months. You can't have it so easy. We hold our hands because we are before your lordship,” ASG Sharma said.
Advocate G Tushar Rao, appearing for petitioner-lawyer Amit Acharya, objected to the appointment of the same person as CCO and RGO and said that since the roles were different, the same person could not hold the two positions.
Poovayya responded that there was no bar on appointment of the same person as CCO and GRO in the rules.
Acharya, in his petition, claimed that he came to know about the alleged non-compliance of IT Rules by Twitter when he tried to lodge a complaint against a couple of tweets.
Twice before, on July 6 and July 8, the court had granted time to Twitter to file an affidavit to show compliance with the IT Rules.
The Centre had said in its affidavit that Twitter failed to comply with India's new IT Rules, which could lead to its losing immunity conferred under the IT Act.
The matter would be heard next on August 6.