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Twitter, challenging orders to remove content, sues India’s government

By Karan Deep Singh


Twitter said Tuesday that it has sued the Indian government, pushing back against recent orders to remove content and block accounts within the country.


The suit, filed in the Karnataka High Court in Bangalore, comes after a government threat to initiate criminal proceedings against Twitter executives if they failed to comply, the company said.


Twitter had been given a deadline of Monday to block dozens of accounts and posts from view within India. It did so, but then sought judicial relief.


The Indian government, for its part, urged Twitter to follow the rules. “It is everyone’s responsibility to abide by the laws passed by the country’s parliament,” Ashwini Vaishnaw, the minister of electronics and information technology, said at a news conference Tuesday.


Twitter’s move follows separate legal action by WhatsApp also pushing back against the country’s new rules involving the internet, which took effect last year, and which WhatsApp has described as oppressive.


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party have worked for several years to corral the power of the tech companies and more strictly police what is said online, and they have used the new information technology laws to clamp down on dissent.


Twitter, for example, was told to remove content related to complaints about civil liberties, protests, press freedoms and criticisms of how the government has handled the coronavirus pandemic. WhatsApp had been told it would be required to make people’s private messages “traceable” to outside parties.


India’s new rules require social media companies to take down content that the government flags for violation of the country’s laws before challenging such orders in court.


Twitter has previously criticized the government’s tactics and called on it to respect freedom of expression. The company said India’s laws were being used “arbitrarily and disproportionately” against the company and its users, many of whom are journalists, opposition politicians and nonprofits.


Last year, WhatsApp asked the Delhi High Court to block the enforceability of the rule about making people’s messages traceable. The government has said with regard to WhatsApp’s case that the right to privacy is not “absolute and it is subject to reasonable restrictions.”


That case is still pending.

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