Twitter, challenging block orders, sues India’s government

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.

The company also alleged that New Delhi threatened to open criminal proceedings against its chief compliance officer in India if the company didn’t comply with orders.

The lawsuit follows a rough year and a half for Twitter in India, where it has been asked to take down hundreds of accounts and tweets, many of which critics argue were objectionable only because they denounced the Indian government’s policies and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment. Twitter has amassed about 48 million monthly active users across its smartphone apps in India, according to Sensor Tower.

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 new IT rules required any large social media firm to appoint chief compliance officer, nodal contact person and resident grievance officer in the country to address local concerns.

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 tension between the two was apparent on May 24 last year, when Delhi police, controlled by India’s central government, visited two offices of Twitter — in the national capital state of Delhi and Gurgaon, in the neighboring state of Haryana — to seek more information about Twitter’s rationale to label one of the tweets by ruling partly BJP spokesperson as “manipulated media.”

Delhi police said at the time that it had received a complaint about the classification of the spokesperson’s tweet and visited the offices to serve Twitter India’s head a notice of the inquiry. In a statement, the police said Twitter India’s managing director’s replies on the subject had been “very ambiguous.”

Twitter at the time described the episode as “intimidation.”

The company has “concerns with regards to the use of intimidation tactics by the police in response to enforcement of our global Terms of Service, as well as with core elements of the new IT Rules,” it said.