from the finally-some-push-back-but-will-it-matter? dept
The government of India continues to hew closer to the ideals of nearby China, led by the Mohdi government, which has been pushing for greater control of the country’s population. Its favorite means and methods are surveillance and censorship — the tool set of authoritarians all over the world.
Indian citizens may have greater access to the internet and social media services, but the government wants to control how they’re used and the narratives citizens have access to. It has enacted a number of laws designed to give the government a say in what can be said. Many of these new rules target social media services operated by foreign companies, subjecting them to escalating content removal orders that must be complied with almost immediately.
Twitter has been targeted with several of these — some backed by implicit (and explicit!) threats to jail local Twitter employees who fail to comply. Twitter has pushed back, but the Indian government has refused to back down. The government’s pushback against Twitter’s pushback appeared to win out, with Twitter returning to capitulating to government demands for content and account removal. And, with Twitter still appearing to be at least a bit recalcitrant, the government made at least one threat a reality by raiding local Twitter offices after Twitter labeled a government tweet as “manipulated media.”
The pushback is back on again. Twitter has apparently decided it’s no longer going to let one branch of the government tell it what content it can or can’t make available to Indian users. Instead, it’s going to roll on the dice on having two government branches tell it what content must be removed.
Twitter has sued the Indian government to challenge some of the block orders on tweets and accounts, further escalating the tension in the key overseas market.
In its lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the Karnataka High Court in Bengaluru, Twitter alleges that New Delhi had abused its power by ordering it to arbitrarily and disproportionately remove several tweets from its platform.
Additionally, some block orders “pertain to political content that is posted by official handles of political parties,” Twitter said in the lawsuit.
“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,” it argued.
If nothing else, the lawsuit may slow down the criminal proceedings the Indian government has threatened to bring against Twitter’s chief compliance officer in India. The legality of the government’s demands are now up for debate, which means it would be unwise for the government to compound illegal acts by moving ahead with a prosecution when it’s still unclear whether or not the government had any legal right to make these removal demands.
The other thing propelling this legal action is the institution of new internet censorship rules by the Indian government, which give service providers and social media platforms few other options to challenge content removal orders that, in Twitter’s experience, have consistently targeted government critics.
Twitter has partially complied with the requests over the past year and a half, but sought to fight back many of the challenges. Under India’s new IT rules, which went into effect last year, Twitter has little to no room left to individually challenge the takedown orders and noncompliance may result in legal actions against its compliance officer in the country.
The Indian government has offered only one statement on the lawsuit so far. And it’s one that suggests it thinks it will prevail and that it doesn’t really care what negative effects its laws have on Indian citizens and the companies that provide them with internet access and services.
When asked about the lawsuit, India’s IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, said: “It is everyone’s responsibility to abide by the laws passed by the country’s Parliament.”
The law is the law. And that’s true as far as it goes. Twitter’s lawsuit asks how far the government can go, even under these expanded powers. Only the court can answer that question. Until then, the reverse — it’s no one’s responsibility to comply with illegal requests — is equally true.