Twitter sues Indian government over content takedown orders

Local carriers are also upset with the laws, which they say will break encryption

India's rules governing content takedowns are being challenged by local mobile carriers and Twitter, on grounds that they are technically infeasible and restrict free speech.

The micro-blogging service's challenge has landed in the form of a lawsuit filed to oppose recent government requests to remove some tweets, according to Indian media reports.

Twitter has not responded to multiple requests for comment from The Register, but we understand the avian network recently received a formal letter from India's government that it risks losing "intermediary status" if it does not take down some tweets. "Intermediary status" is a term used in India's "Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 – a law that requires social media services and carriers to take down content and identify users when ordered by India's government.

If organizations comply with the law, they are exempt from some prosecutions for their users' actions. Failure to comply means an organization's execs can become personally and criminally liable for users' activities.

The High Court of Karnataka, in which Twitter filed its case, lists the matter – but times out when The Register tries to access filings. Indian outlet NDTV reports that the suit claims some takedown requests have exceeded the authority conferred under the rules, may have been politically motivated, and are a disproportionate response.

Just what content Twitter has referred to is not clear, but last week Indian outlet Entrackr reported that India's government requested deletion of tweets by Freedom House, a US-based organization that advocates for democracy. The tweets reportedly assessed internet freedom as waning in India.

In the wake of that report, Indian media reported that Twitter had been threatened with losing its intermediary status.

The lawsuit filed yesterday appears to be Twitter's response, and the catalyst for the following tweet from India's tech minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar.

Chandrasekhar also has local opposition to muse about, in the form of a report [PDF] compiled by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and think tank The Dialogue.

The report found the law could impact investment in India, that the personal liability provision is inconsistent with other Indian laws, and that the requirement to identify and trace users "is technically infeasible and will weaken end-to-end encryption."

Those criticisms come as India last month proposed updates to the IT Rules, prompting the nation's Internet Freedom Foundation to issue an analysis labeling the planned revisions "a lot worse" than the existing law.

The Foundation and the Association both also criticize the lack of consultation before the Rules were announced and revised.

India's government seems not to notice such criticism. The outcry over onerous infosec Directions introduced without warning in April 2022 and requiring disclosure of even innocuous incidents within six hours of detection generated almost no comment or engagement, other than a deferral of compliance requirements announced on the day of the original deadline to achieve compliance.

The Register has since sought data on whether or not India's government has observed compliance with the Directions. Our inquires have, at the time of writing, not generated a response. ®

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