India bombards Twitter with user data requests, content removal demands

By: News Desk      Published: 08:46 AM, 16 Jul, 2021
India bombards Twitter with user data requests, content removal demands
Representational image.

Twitter is under enormous pressure in India this year. But even before the country rolled out strict new rules for tech firms, the company was hit by a wave of requests from the government to remove content or provide user data.

Indian authorities submitted more requests for account information from Twitter in the last six months of 2020 than any other government, the Silicon Valley-based company said in its latest transparency report. The number of demands that India made for content removal also spiked 152% to nearly 7,000.

Twitter said that India's requests for user information accounted for 25% of the total it received during the reporting period, which includes data from July 1 to December 31, 2020. Twitter did not comply with over 99% of the requests.

"Notably, this is the first time since we started publishing our transparency report in 2012 where the United States is not the top global requester," the company said, adding that the United States came in second in terms of global volume.

The information requests included routine legal demands and emergency requests from government agencies and law enforcement authorities, the company said.

In India's case, Twitter said it complied with 0.6% of the total 3,615 requests received. The company's rate of compliance in the United States for the period was 59%.

"Where appropriate, Twitter will push back on requests for account information which are incomplete or improper," such as those that are "invalid or overbroad in scope," the company said. In case of emergency requests — which involve the danger of death or serious injury — the company may disclose account details, if it is provided with enough proof that such relevant information can avert those dangers.

Twitter classified just over 150 information requests from India as emergencies. The United States sent 822 such requests, the company said, the highest in the world.

Legal demands made by India to remove or withhold content, meanwhile, shot up 152% during the last six months of 2020 compared to the prior reporting period. Twitter said it complied with just over 9% of those 6,971 demands.

The jump made India the second-highest submitter of such demands in the world after Japan, which made more than 16,000 requests primarily related to narcotics, obscenity, or money lending. The number of demands from Japan marked a 16% decrease from the prior period, though the country still accounted for 43% of all global requests received.

Worldwide, 199 accounts of verified journalists and news outlets were subjected to a total of 361 demands for removal of information, according to the company. It added that 128 of those requests came from India alone.

The report doesn't cover any of 2021, during which time Twitter has been in a tense stand-off with the Indian government over strict new information technology rules.

In February, the company clashed with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology over accounts that the agency wanted taken down during a series of protests by farmers. Twitter complied with some of the requests, but refused to take action against accounts of journalists, activists or politicians.

Weeks after that feud, India introduced the new rules, which among other things require social media companies to create three roles in the country: a "compliance officer" who will ensure their company follows local laws; a "grievance officer" who will address complaints from Indian users about its platforms; and a "contact person" available to Indian law enforcement 24/7. They all have to reside in India. Companies are also required to trace the "first originator" of messages if asked by authorities.

In May, the company expressed concerns about "core elements of the new IT Rules" and the "potential threat to freedom of speech" in the country. A few days later, it pledged to meet the new requirements.

Twitter was recently admonished by a court in Delhi for not meeting the requirements of the new rules in time. The company responded in a court filing last week by saying that it had hired an interim compliance officer. It added in that filing that it will "endeavor in good faith to make an offer of employment to a qualified candidate" within eight weeks for all of the roles.

As of last weekend, the company's website listed a grievance officer and a Bangalore address which Twitter can be contacted.