The Indian government threatens to impose fines and up to seven years in prison on Twitter employees Recover hundreds of accounts It has ordered the company to block. Most accounts criticized the country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
On Monday, Twitter complied with the government’s order to prohibit Indian people from viewing more than 250 accounts belonging to activists, political commentators, movie stars, and investigative news magazine caravans. Most reports criticized India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Modi and his government. However, the company restored these accounts about 6 hours after the Twitter lawyer met with IT officials, and argued that these tweets and accounts constitute freedom of speech and have news value.
The Indian government disagrees. On Tuesday, the IT department issued a notice to Twitter, ordering it to block these accounts again. It also threatened those working in Twitter’s India branch with legal consequences, which could include fines and up to seven years’ imprisonment.
“This is really problematic,” said Nikhil Pahwa, editor of the technology policy website MediaNama and internet activist. “I don’t understand why the Indian government should get involved in this area and try to censor tweets when they have bigger issues to deal with.”
A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment. A spokesperson for the IT department did not respond to a request for comment.
This move put the company in trouble. Blocking accounts again will mean being accused of playing an active role in India’s continued suppression of dissidents, as anti-government protests sweep the country. But keeping accounts on the platform means risking political and legal showdowns in major markets.
In a notice issued on Tuesday, the government stated that these accounts “spread misinformation about the protests” and “may lead to imminent violence that affects the state of public order in the country”. BuzzFeed News has reviewed a copy of this notice.
On January 26, thousands of Indian farmers broke through police roadblocks and rushed into the Red Fort, a Mughal-era monument in New Delhi, protesting for months that agricultural reforms would harm their income. , Indian Republic Day.At least one protester It is said that died.Delhi Police Refuse They participated in this incident.
In the notice, the government claimed that the labels used on these accounts were “found inciting people to commit identifiable crimes related to public order and national security.”
Although the caravan did not use the label, the government claimed that “news and news reports” were spreading misinformation, causing “incitement to the public” and creating a “state of public order.”
A spokesperson for Caravan told BuzzFeed News that its news is fair and professional. “We don’t understand why the Indian government suddenly discovered that journalists shouldn’t talk about all aspects of the problem,” Vinod K. Jose, the magazine’s executive editor, told BuzzFeed News.
Indian law prohibits Twitter from sharing the legal order it received on Monday, but according to the government’s notice on Tuesday, the company fought back. The document claimed that Twitter did not block these accounts until 24 hours after receiving the first order, and did so for a few minutes before Twitter attorneys met with government officials on Tuesday.
“It is clear that offensive tweets/hashtags are still in the public domain and must be posted and reposted on Twitter many times at the risk and cost of public order and the risk of inciting crime,” the notice read.
According to the notice, Twitter also responded to the government after meeting with officials who refused to “comply and obey” government orders. The notice stated that Twitter must comply with Indian law.
The government also refuted Twitter’s “freedom of speech” argument, saying that the company does not have “any constitutional, statutory or any legal basis” to interpret freedom of speech under Indian law.
Twitter also argued that the “reasons” for blocking the entire account were “insufficient” and stated that the government should order the blocking of individual tweets. In response, the government notice stated that Twitter is not a place to seek reasons from the government.
The core of the legal order is Article 69A, which is an article in Indian IT law that allows the federal government to require platforms such as Twitter to withhold “any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource”. This information It may disrupt “public orders.” Not only do platforms like Twitter need to comply with these orders, but they are also prohibited from disclosing these orders.
“I hope this case can go to court,” said Pahwa, the founder of MediaNama, “because I do rationally believe that the government is likely to lose the case.”