Freedom of speech is the footing on which many social media websites, including Twitter, are based, which is why the social media website has taken legal action against the government of India to challenge ‘block orders’ on some tweets and accounts.
This lawsuit is a part of the expanding war between tech companies and governments over who gets to control information.
Twitter sues government of India
Twitter’s lawsuit, filed in the Karnataka High Court in Bengaluru, challenges the Indian government’s recent order for the company to remove content and block a handful of accounts. The platform initially complied with the order but then sought legal relief. A date for the judge to review Twitter’s case is yet to be set.
“Blocking of such information is a violation of the freedom of speech guaranteed to citizen-users of the platform,” the lawsuit noted. The company alleged that India threatened to open criminal proceedings against its Chief Compliance Officer (employed in India) if it did not follow the set rules.
The content in specific Twitter is talking about is unclear, but previously, the government requested the removal of tweets by ‘Freedom House,’ a US-based organization. Following that report, media outlets reported that Twitter was threatened with losing its ‘intermediary’ status.
Indian Minister of State for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship of India, Rajeev Chandrasekhar tweeted that while all internet platforms have the right to court review, they should also comply with the country’s rules and regulations.
India’s new rules
The lawsuit by Twitter is a push back against the laws that the Indian government passed in 2021, which increased its censorship powers. The rules gave the government authority over social media companies, allowing them to hide content or accounts from Indian users.
If the platform did not comply with these demands, it could face criminal penalties, making them personally liable for users’ activities. The legislation caused a frenzy amongst social media companies, who argued that these rules allow the government to censor its critics and corrode privacy measures like encryption.
Not only Twitter, but the Indian government also told WhatsApp it would have to make private messages ‘traceable’ upon the request of government agencies. Following this, WhatsApp also took legal action against the country’s new legislation. It asked the Delhi High Court to block the rule that asked the company to make texts traceable.
The new rules ask social media companies to employ India-based executives, who will ensure that the companies comply with the government’s request to block accounts and remove content. Indian officials have termed the law ‘necessary’ to tackle the growing issue of misinformation.