India: Twitter sues Narendra Modi government against content blocking order

Social media company a hard Since last year, India has been locked in a months-long standoff with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government over free speech.
At one point, the company was even the target of a few police investigations. Twitter (TWTR) It called them “intimidation tactics” and said it was “concerning” about security its employees in the country. But, to Disappointment of free speech activistsIt chose not to take legal action against the government.

Until now.

The San Francisco-based company filed a petition Tuesday in the high court of Karnataka, a state in southwestern India, according to a listing reviewed by CNN Business Online.

Twitter declined to comment on the lawsuit.

But a source familiar with the filing said the company has decided to challenge some of the government’s orders as they “show excessive use of powers and are disproportionate”.

In the past, authorities have asked Twitter to remove posts Criticized Modi GovtIncluding the country’s handling of a brutal second wave of the coronavirus pandemic last spring.

“Authorities continue to target people for content published online and threaten websites and social media services to comply with its censorship,” said Raman Jit Singh Sima, senior international counsel and Asia Pacific policy director at digital rights group Access Now.

Sima and other free-speech advocates have accused the government of trying to censor journalists, protest groups and opposition lawmakers with its bans, which are rarely made public.

“Today, Twitter is standing up for the people and doing what government should be doing: protecting our rights,” he added.

India’s technology ministry last month threatened Twitter with “severe consequences”, including initiating criminal proceedings against its executives, if the company fails to comply with the agency’s orders to remove certain tweets and block accounts.

While the company has blocked access Content in India at present requires judicial review of certain orders. Company He believes they violate the country’s technology laws and threaten freedom of speech.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology did not respond to a request for comment. But India’s junior IT minister Rajiv Chandrasekhar A Tweet Foreign websites on Tuesday said “There is [a] Court and Right to Judicial Review,” in India, without mentioning Twitter.

All platforms operating in the country have “ [an] Implicit obligation to comply with our laws and rules.”

High-stakes positioning

Twitter’s case is the latest fight in an increasingly contentious relationship between Silicon Valley tech companies and their biggest markets. India’s ruling party has intensified its crackdown on social media and messaging apps since last year.

U.S. tech companies have repeatedly voiced fears over the past year that the country’s technology rules could erode privacy, mass surveillance and harm business in the world’s fastest-growing digital market. India says it is trying To maintain national security.

Rules, published in February 2021, included demands that technology companies create specialized compliance officers in India. The Services also have requirements to remove certain content, including posts featuring “full or partial nudity.”
Additionally, tech sites must find the “first originator” of messages if authorities ask. That need forced WhatsApp to — own, sort of Facebook (FB), by Meta – to file a legal complaint against the government in May last year. WhatsApp said the request would “break the platform’s end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermine people’s right to privacy”.

The lawsuit is pending, a spokeswoman for the company told CNN Business on Wednesday.

Before Twitter Clashes with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology Earlier last year, the agency wanted the accounts to be removed during a series Farmers struggle. Twitter complied with some requests but declined to take action against the accounts of journalists, activists or politicians.

Twitter last year expressed concerns about the IT rules and said it “plans to recommend changes to elements of these rules that inhibit free, open public discourse.”

In its lawsuit this week, Twitter did not challenge India’s technology law, but said the government’s restraining orders were “disproportionate in many cases.”

Freedom of speech activists in India welcomed the move on Tuesday. Many of them said last year that they felt it Drop down Twitter’s inability to take a firm stand against the government.

However, some think the company could have gone further.

“Instead of challenging the Indian government’s recklessness in implementing the IT Act, they have narrowly challenged the Indian government’s directives in these particular cases,” said Nikhil Pahwa, founder of Delhi-based technology website Medianama.

“Twitter had an opportunity to do a lot more, and they didn’t try to make meaningful, substantial changes,” he added.

— Swati Gupta and Isha Mitra contributed to this report.

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