The Indian government now makes the highest number of requests to Twitter seeking information about accounts, surpassing the US for the first time, according to the micro-blogging website’s latest transparency report.
The US did not top the list for the first time since Twitter began publishing the biannual report in 2012. It covers data from the period between July and December 2020.
“India submitted the most government information requests during this reporting period, accounting for 25 per cent of the global volume, and 15 per cent of the global accounts specified,” the report said.
The US made the second highest volume of requests, accounting for 22 per cent of global information requests and 60 per cent of the global accounts specified.
This comes months after the platform, owned by billionaire tech entrepreneur Jack Dorsey, reportedly expressed concern over freedom of expression in India after police visited its offices in Delhi.
Twitter and the Indian government are currently engaged in a standoff over several issues, including compliance with the country’s new Information Technology rules which will potentially give the authorities more powers to police online content.
According to its transparency report, Twitter received 14,561 requests for information on 51,584 accounts globally in the six-month period, ending in 2020.
Out of the total, India made 3,615 routine requests, accounting for a 38 per cent increase from the first half of the year, when it made 2,613 such requests.
Routine requests are legal notices sent to social media companies by the government to submit information on the accounts concerned. However, Twitter can choose whether to disclose information or not if it sees any threat involving deaths or serious injury to a person.
India also sent the second-highest number of requests to take down content, after Japan.
Twitter received a total 38,524 legal demands to remove content from 131,933 accounts, with Japan, India, Russia, Turkey and South Korea topping the list for most requests.
India made 6,971 legal requests for removal of content, an increase of 151 per cent in comparison to 2,772 such requests in the first six months of 2020.
Globally, Twitter complied with 29 per cent of these demands. But in India it agreed to just 9.1 per cent, or around 634 such take-down requests.
India topping the charts for making such requests was dubbed by an expert to be an “alarming trend”. Raman Chima, Asia-Pacific policy director at nonprofit organisation Access Now, pointed out that a majority of such requests in the US are through court orders, while in India there is no “judicial oversight”.
“India being number one represents an alarming increase in requests being sent, even worse there is no judicial oversight when it comes to such orders,” Mr Chima told the Hindustan Times.
“This is also happening at a time when significant concerns are being raised around those who dissent in India by the government. The Indian government must justify and explain how the orders are being sent,” he said.
“It also becomes even more critical for an independent oversight, under the new data protection law to be installed in the country,” he added.
The ongoing rift between the platform and the Indian government widened after four criminal complaints were filed against Twitter in different cases in less than a month.
The Indian government announced the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules in February, and they became effective in May.
They require social media platforms to appoint three full-time Indian executives to remove content deemed problematic by law enforcement and the government. It also requires social media platforms to track the origin of a message when asked.
On 5 July, the government told the Delhi High Court that Twitter has failed to comply with the rules, and that it therefore deemed the platform as no longer enjoying protection from prosecution over the content it hosts.
In response, the court said the government was free to initiate legal action against Twitter in accordance with the new IT rules and have the matter heard in court.
After the court’s order, Twitter India on Sunday appointed a resident grievance officer to comply with the rules.