India warns Twitter over lifting block on accounts and noncompliance of order

India has issued a notice to Twitter, warning the American social firm to comply with New Delhi’s order to block accounts and content related to a protest by farmers and not “assume the role of a court and justify non-compliance.” Failure to comply with the order may prompt penal action against Twitter, the notice warns.

The warning comes days after Twitter blocked dozens of high-profile accounts in India in compliance with New Delhi’s request, but later lifted the restriction.

Twitter “cannot assume the role of a court and justify non-compliance. Twitter being an intermediary is obliged to obey the directions as per satisfaction of authorities as to which inflammatory content will arouse passion and impact public order. Twitter cannot sit as an appellate authority over the satisfaction of the authorities about its potential impact on derailing public order,” said the notice, a copy of its summary was reviewed by TechCrunch.

India’s IT ministry has also expressed concerns over what it deemed derogatory and factually incorrect tweets and hashtags that have been circulating in India this week that it said were designed to spread hate. “It is thus clear that, the offending tweets/ hashtag remained in public domain and must have been tweeted and re-tweeted several times at the risk and cost of public order and at the risk of incitement to the commission of offences,” the notice said.

Twitter declined to comment.

For more than three months, tens of thousands of farmers (if not more) in India and elsewhere have been protesting against three laws passed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government last year that they say allow greater private sector competition.

Twitter, which reaches more than 75 million users through its apps in India, has emerged as the single-most important online forum for people seeking to voice their opinion on this matter. Singer Rihanna, who has more followers on Twitter than any Indian actor or politician, tweeted a CNN news story on Tuesday about the protests in India and asked “why are’t we talking about this!?

Several Indian politicians and high-profile Indian actors including Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, Karan Johar, and Ekta Kapoor cautioned Indians on Wednesday to not fall for “propaganda.”

Raman Chima, a senior international counsel and Asia Pacific Policy director at Access Now, a non-profit internet advocacy organization, said in a series of tweets that instead of threatening social media platforms, India’s IT ministry “needs to explain why blocking entire handles & seeking the banning of hashtags does not violate the Indian Constitution.” He said the ministry has neither been transparent nor respected the rights.

“You can choose to disagree, correct, ridicule, or engage with such fears, outcry. Seeking to ban & precensor such discussions is a travesty of India’s Constitution + international human rights law. This is not what 21st Century India should permit, nor what our founders envisaged. The Ministry of Electronics and IT should release its actual orders and all documentation behind the Govt’s decisions to – (1) issue these orders and (2) press the matter with Twitter and other social media platforms. Don’t hide; explain & justify how this is not unconstitutional.”

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