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Twitter sues Indian government over content removal orders

Image credit: Foto 225235993 © Suvethasuku |

Twitter has sued the Indian government over Prime Minister Narendra Modi's orders to block several tweets and accounts under the country's information technology law.

Twitter has filed a suit in the Karnataka High Court in Bangalore, India, challenging a recent government order for the company to remove content and block dozens of accounts. The decision has escalated the social media company’s fight against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's drive to acquire more control over the content published on social media platforms. 

Twitter complied with the order, made under India's information technology law, but immediately sought judicial relief.

According to the lawsuit paperwork, Twitter has alleged that New Delhi had abused its power by ordering it to arbitrarily and disproportionately remove several tweets from its platform, some of which “pertain to political content that is posted by official handles of political parties”, the social media giant stated.

The suit is the first legal challenge that the company has issued to push back against laws passed in 2021 that extended the Indian government’s censorship powers. The rules allowed the government to demand that posts or accounts critical of them be hidden from Indian users, and threatened social media company executives with up to seven years in jail should they fail to comply with the rules. 

In June, the Indian government published a letter warning technology companies of the "serious consequences" of non-compliance with the new law and warned Twitter that it was its "last opportunity" to obey the government's command, the BBC has reported. 

Following the filing of Twitter's petition, federal minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar tweeted that all foreign internet platforms had to comply with Indian laws.

The laws passed in 2021 were met with harsh criticism from social media platforms, that argued that India’s rules allow the government to broadly censor its critics, and that they erode security measures like encryption. For many of these platforms, the South Asian country is one of its largest markets, with Twitter alone counting 24 million users in the country, by one estimate. 

“Blocking of such information is a violation of the freedom of speech guaranteed to citizen-users of the platform. Further, the content at issue does not have any apparent proximate relationship to the grounds under Section 69A,” the filing argued.

However, Indian officials have said the law is necessary to combat online misinformation.

Over the past year, Indian authorities have asked Twitter to remove content related to the massive farmer protests or criticism of the government's handling of the pandemic, citing objections based on public order.

The platform initially complied, blocking some 250 accounts that related to the farmer protests. However, the company restored the accounts hours later, claiming there was "insufficient justification" for the suspension.

The social media giant is not the only platform that intends to fight the regulation in the courts. Last year, WhatsApp sued the Indian government after authorities told the company it would be required to make people’s private messages “traceable” to government agencies upon request. In response to the lawsuit, New Delhi claimed the right to privacy is "subject to reasonable restrictions". The case is currently still pending.

It’s unclear if the new lawsuit will have any impact on Twitter’s proposed acquisition by Elon Musk, as one of the billionaire's other businesses, Tesla, has long been negotiating with the Indian government to obtain permission to sell its cars in the country.

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