Twitter in June Received an ultimatum from the Indian government to remove around 39 accounts and content from its platform. Sources familiar with the order said it outlined that Twitter’s chief compliance officer could face criminal proceedings if it refused to comply. They said it also said the company would lose its “safe harbor” protections, meaning it would no longer be liable for content created by its users. This is an escalation in a series of “blocking orders” or content removal orders issued by India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, increased Significant increase over the past 18 months.
Last week, Twitter responded: It will take the Indian government to court.
While the controversy itself concerns only specific accounts and pieces of content, experts told WIRED that the outcome could have significant ramifications and serve as “a bellwether for this ongoing battle over internet freedom”, the firm’s Technology and Democracy Research Director Allie Funk said. Freedom House.
Twitter’s lawsuit specifically focuses on Section 69A of India’s Information Technology Act. A law passed in 2000 allows the government to issue a blocking order requiring an intermediary (Twitter in this case) to remove content the government believes poses a risk to India’s security or sovereignty. The court filing has not been made public, but it claims the government’s demands were excessive, sometimes targeting entire accounts, according to sources familiar with the filing.
Jason Pielemeier, executive director of the Global Web Initiative, said Twitter’s lawsuit has implications beyond social media platforms. “This will affect all intermediaries,” he said. “Intermediaries as defined by Indian law include mobile network operators, including ISPs. So it really applies to everyone who might be seen as a bottleneck for content restrictions or censorship.” If Twitter loses in court, it could censor for the government Media across the site and on streaming platforms like Netflix or Amazon Prime opens the way and makes it harder for platforms and companies to fight back.
“Around 2010 or 2011, the government [earlier] said Raman Jit Singh Chima, senior international advisor and Asia-Pacific policy director at Access Now. These laws, added in 2009, prohibit platforms from publicly disclosing the blocking orders they receive. “Even at that time, there was a lot of criticism that the rules put all power in the hands of the executive branch.” Twitter’s case does not seek to challenge the constitutionality of 69A, but rather claims that certain blocking orders did not meet the government’s own standards, namely to determine Reasons why the content needs to be removed and violates the user’s right to freedom of speech.
Because India’s IT laws allow the government to secretly issue blocking orders, it is especially difficult for individual users to understand why their content is being censored, or to try to overturn a government decision. In 2018, the government placed a blockade on the satirical website www.dowrycalculator.com owned by journalist Tanul Thakur, who was not told why the site was blocked and began a legal battle to find out. The government claims Thakur’s website promotes dowry, which is illegal in India but still exists in many places. In 2018, Thakur told Outlook India that the site aimed to point out this “prominent social evil”.