India surpasses the US in sending legal requests for info, says Twitter report
NEW DELHI: India has surpassed the United States as the country that sent the most number of legal requests seeking information about accounts from Twitter, the social media company’s latest transparency report covering the period from July to December 2020 said on Wednesday.
The number of legal information requests from India accounted for 25% of the global volume and 15% of the global accounts specified, up from 21% and 25% respectively in the January-June, 2020 period.
Twitter’s global legal policy head Vijaya Gadde, in a Spaces conversation on the platform, said that it does not always cede to a government’s information requests. “Sometimes the requests are incomplete, broad in scope or the accounts have been deleted, in such a situation Twitter can challenge the requests,” she said.
The report said that Twitter produced some or all of the requested information in response to 30% of the information requests globally, which came to 4,367 in all.
India also emerged as the country that sent the second-highest number of takedown requests after Japan. Hindustan Times in June first reported that the number of blocking orders issued under section 69(A) of the IT Act had risen from 3,600 in 2019, to over 9,800 in 2020. In the first five months of 2021 (until May), the number increased to 6,000.
Section 69(A) of the IT Act allows the government to act against social media posts and accounts that may pose a threat to public order or India’s sovereignty and integrity, defence of India, security of the State, and friendly relations with foreign states.
Twitter’s latest transparency report also added that accounts of 199 verified journalists and news outlets from around the world were subject to 361 legal demands, a 26% increase in such requests since the previous reporting period. “And, 94% of the total global volume of legal demands originated from only five countries (in decreasing order): Japan, India, Russia, Turkey, and South Korea,” it added, without giving country-wise data.
The company has recently been locked in a conflict with the Indian government over compliance with the new social media and intermediary guidelines, for which the deadline ended on May 25. It recently appointed a resident grievance redressal officer and released an India-specific grievance redressal report, prompting one of its foremost critics, former union minister for electronics and information technology Ravi Shankar Prasad to say it was “assuring to see that Twitter was making an effort to comply”.
The confrontation between the Union government and Twitter began in January when protests by farmers escalated in Delhi and its surrounding regions. Twitter refused to take down content relating to the protests. These included accounts of journalists and activists. In the second round, Twitter restricted access to posts instead of accounts. The actions prompted the government to serve the platform with two non-compliance notices, threatening penal action if it did not accede to them.
Speaking about takedown requests in general, Gadde said Twitter challenges such requests if they fall under certain categories identified in its policies, including political speech. “They can be challenged if they are consistent with local values, or even local laws. Understanding the context of these requests and taking a call is challenging task,” she said.
Twitter also added a new category called “impressions”, under which it captures how many times a tweet was viewed before it was removed. “In total, impressions on violative Tweets accounted for less than 0.1% of all impressions for all Tweets globally, from July 1 through December 31. During this time period, Twitter removed 3.8 million Tweets that violated the Twitter Rules; 77% of which received fewer than 100 impressions prior to removal, with an additional 17% receiving between 100 and 1,000 impressions. Only 6% of removed Tweets had more than 1,000 impressions,” the report stated.
Raman Chima, Asia-Pacific policy director at Access now said India’s rise to number one when it comes to information requests is an alarming trend. “US has always been number 1 on the index, being the country that others have pointed to when it comes to justifying requests,” he said. “Moreover, a vast number of requests sent by US are court orders. 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. 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. It also becomes even more critical for an independent oversight, under the new data protection law to be installed in the country.”