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Govt’s Twitter account needs better handling

LiveMint logoLiveMint 20-05-2014 Leslie D’Monte

Mumbai: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may have won the general elections decisively but it did receive a digital jolt on Tuesday.

In an unprecedented move in India’s online history, the official prime minister handle (@PMOIndia) was archived and its 1.24 million followers “transported” to the new account @PMOIndiaArchive twitter handle that now reads: “Archival material under the RTI Act for @PMOIndia till 20/5/2014. @PMOIndia will be available shortly.”

This angered the incoming Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by prime minister-designate Narendra Modi.

“The Twitter account @PMOIndia is a national digital asset. It is disgraceful, unethical and illegal the way the outgoing team has handled this account,” BJP spokeswoman Meenakshi Lekhi said in a statement on Tuesday.

BJP loyalists were equally incensed. @BJPforUP, for instance, tweeted that “@PMOIndia is not personal property, it’s official and is intellectual property of our nation: Smt. @M_Lekhi pic.twitter.com/qigNaXFSI1”.

In his defence, Pankaj Pachauri @PankajPachauri, the owner of the @PMOIndia handle, tweeted: “More clarification: This is an office account and the office continues to manage it. The handover is being facilitated.”

Cyberlaw and social media experts were unanimous that the government’s official Twitter handle, @PMOIndia in this case, is a national digital asset and has to be protected and passed on the next government without “diminishing the value or utility of the electronic resource”, failing which those liable could be punished under the relevant sections of the information technology (IT) Act 2000 (amended in 2008).

Cyberlaw expert and Supreme Court lawyer, Pavan Duggal, said, “We do not know what exactly happened since there are various versions of the incident”.

However, without getting into the merits and demerits of what exactly happened in this particular case, under the Information Technology (IT) Act 2000 (amended in 2008), Twitter is an intermediary and “has to exercise due diligence under Section 79 of the IT Act”, said Duggal.

He explained that a Twitter handle belongs to the person who registers it, and the law is very clear that no one can destroy the “value or utility of any information or electronic resource, dishonestly or fraudulenty”. A person or entity found guilty of doing so would be penalised under “Section 66 of the IT Act 2000, read with 43(i)”.

“I am aghast at the ignorance of the officials who sought to appropriate the handle for the outgoing PM. It is clear that “PMOIndia” is an organizational name which cannot be used by you and me and can be used only by the official PMO of India...Obviously the handle “PMOIndia” is a digital property that belongs to the government of India. Similarly, all websites, Facebook Ids and email IDs in official names are properties of the Government of India and has to naturally pass onto the next government...The officials who thought that the handle can be retained by the erstwhile government seem to be not aware of the concept of ‘Trade Mark” and deserve to be sent out of the responsible positions they are now in...,” said cyberlaw expert Na.Vijayashankar on his personal website, naavi.org.

Advaith Duddu, founder and CEO of social media firm Alive Now, said the incident was “surprising”, since a digital asset has “to be passed on (to the next government in this case), and not archived”.

He cited global precedents of the White House passing the government owned Twitter handles and other digital assets to the incoming administrations.

Meanwhile, @narendramodi, the Prime Minister designate’s official twitter handle with 4.23 million followers had nothing to tweet on this matter.

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