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IT Ministry and Delhi Police condemn “fear mongering” statements by Twitter

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Hours after Twitter said that it is concerned for its employees after “intimidation” by the Indian government and its agencies, the Delhi Police responded saying that the micro-blogging platform’s statement was “designed to impede a lawful inquiry”. Later in the day, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity) also responded to the statement calling it “baseless and false and an attempt to defame India to hide its own follies”.

The Ministry urged Twitter to comply with the new IT Rules 2021. On Thursday, a Twitter spokesperson in a statement said, “Right now, we are concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat to freedom of expression for the people we serve. We, alongside many in civil society in India and around the world, have 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.”

Origins of the conflict

Last week, Twitter had labelled tweets of BJP politicians including spokesperson Sambit Patra and others as “manipulated media”. These tweets had reprimanded the Indian National Congress over a ‘toolkit’ allegedly created by the Congress to undermine the governments’ COVID-19 vaccine policies and defame the Prime Minister.

Soon after the Delhi Police sent a notice to Twitter seeking clarification on the usage of the term “manipulated media” since the matter was under investigation. “It appears that Twitter has some information that is not known to us on basis of which they’ve classified it as such,” a Delhi police official was quoted by ANI as saying. Following that, on Monday night, the Delhi Police’s Special Cell visited the Twitter office in Lado Sarai in New Delhi and in Gurgaon to serve a notice in this regard. The IT also issued a notice to Twitter in this regard.

Compliance with the IT Rules 2021 is another point of the conflagration between the micro-blogging platform and the Indian government. Twitter on Thursday also raised concerns about the new rules which requires significant social media intermediaries such as Twitter to comply with additional due diligence. Twitter said it had concerns with the rules, since it states that the Chief Compliance Officer is criminally liable for content on the platform and that the social media entity would need to to proactively monitor tweets from their users, including seeking information from their customers. This represents dangerous overreach that is inconsistent with open, democratic principles, Twitter said.

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Twitter needs to comply with laws of land: MeitY

This is an attempt to dictate terms to the government: The IT Ministry said that  Twitter was undermining India’s legal system. “Twitter needs to stop beating around the bush and comply with the laws of the land. Law making and policy formulations is the sole prerogative of the sovereign and Twitter is just a social media platform and it has no locus in dictating what India’s legal policy framework should be,” the Ministry said in a press release.

Platform’s officials in India claim that they have no authority: While questioning Twitter’s refusal to comply with the IT Rules 2021, the IT Ministry said that Twitters’ representatives in India “routinely claim that they have no authority and that they and the people of India need to escalate everything to the Twitter Headquarter in the USA.”

Twitter ‘scuttling’ free speech: The Indian government said that it respects the right of people to ask questions and also criticise on social media platforms and that it also respects the right to privacy. “However, the only instance of scuttling free speech on Twitter is Twitter itself and its opaque policies, as a result of which people’s accounts are suspended and tweets deleted arbitrarily without recourse,” the release said.

India questions Twitter’s commitment to citizens of the country: The Indian government questioned Twitter’s claim that it is committed to the people of the country.

  • The Indian government said that Twitter chose to show the geo-location of certain locations in the Union Territory of Ladakh as part of the People’s Republic of China at a time when India and China were engaged in the peaceful resolution of border-related issues through bilateral dialogue. “Twitter took several days, that too only after repeated reminders, to rectify this blatant disrespect to India’s sensitivity and territorial integrity,” the MeitY said.
  • Twitter reused to take action on the request made by the Indian government to block contents that allegedly sought to incite violence after the Red Fort incident earlier this year.
  • The Indian government said that Twitter as promoting vaccine hesitancy on its platform and accused it of not taking any action
  • It also claimed that Indians were being discriminated against on the platform by the “malicious tagging of B.1.617′ Covid-19 variant as “Indian variant”.

Obfuscatory, diversionary and tendentious: Delhi Police to Twitter

Twitter must share information with police: While terming the statements as an attempt to impede a “lawful inquiry”, the Delhi police said that Twitter was acting both as an investigating and judicial authority. “Since, Twitter Inc. claims to have material information basis which it not only ‘investigated’ but arrived at a ‘conclusion’, it must share that information with the Police. There should not be any confusion about this logical course,” the Delhi Police said in a release.

Twitter must demonstrate transparency: Delhi Police said that it was conducting a preliminary inquiry on a complaint filed by Congress politicians on the alleged toolkit that was being circulated on social media and was being claimed that it was created by Congress. “Twitter Inc., while placing the cart before the horse, went ahead and declared that the toolkit was ‘Manipulated Media’. This clearly demonstrates that Twitter Inc. was acquainted with the facts of the case and it had material information which was germane to the inquiry by a duly recognized law enforcement agency. Therefore, Twitter was asked, by way of multiple communications, to join the inquiry to provide the information it possesses,” the Delhi Police said. Thus the police asked the platform to demonstrate transparency in its functioning ‘which has a bearing on public discourse”.

Twitter India’s subsidiary, TCIPL’s MD was evasive: The Delhi Police alleged that Twitter India’s subsidiary, TCIPL’s Managing Director, chose to adopt a path of evasiveness instead of cooperation. The police said that in TCIPL’s Managing Director had stated in his response that he was merely a sales head and that he had no role whatsoever in any operations relating to the content and thereby refused to join the inquiry.

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“It is to be noted that TCIPL’s stance that its Managing Director is a mere sales head runs contrary to his very own previous press interviews wherein he elaborately discussed Twitter’s plan to devise methods to identify abusive/ manipulative content. The above interview makes it clear, that Twitter India’s convoluted stance is similar to a deer caught in the headlights,” the police said.

Fear-mongering by Twitter misplaced: Delhi Police said that the ‘contrived fear mongering’ by Twitter Inc was unfounded and misplace. They clarified that the MD of TCIPL was just served a notice and was not an accused in the inquiry. “Twitter’s Inc’s latest statements are devised to seek dubious sympathy when they themselves not only refuse to comply with the law of the land but also claim to be the possession of material evidence but refuse to share it with legal authority duly recognised,” it added.

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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