NEW DELHI – Twitter on Tuesday challenged the Indian government in court over its recent orders to take down some content on the social media platform, media outlets reported.
The lawsuit was filed in the Karnataka High Court in southern Bengaluru city and comes after the Indian government in February warned company executives of criminal action if they failed to comply with the takedown orders, the Press Trust of India and the Bar and Bench legal news site reported.
A Twitter spokesperson, Aditi Shorewal, declined to comment or specify what type of content the company was told to block. She did not confirm that Twitter had filed the lawsuit.
The lawsuit is part of a growing confrontation between Twitter and New Delhi after the Indian government last year passed a new set of sweeping regulations giving it more power to police online content.
The new rules require companies to erase or block content that authorities deem unlawful. Under the laws, employees of social media websites and technology companies can be held criminally liable for failing to comply with the government’s orders.
“It is everyone’s responsibility to abide by the laws passed by the country’s Parliament,” India’s IT minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw, told reporters Tuesday, when he was asked about the lawsuit.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has sought for years to control social media and has often directed Twitter to take down tweets or accounts that appear critical of his party and administration.
Twitter complied with most of those orders in the past but also resisted others and has called the new rules a “potential threat to freedom of expression.” The company has removed content related to anti-government farmer protests and tweets criticising the Modi administration’s handling of the pandemic.
The Indian government has called the new rules necessary to tackle disinformation, hate speech and other troubles. Officials have warned Twitter that non-compliance with the rules could mean that the company would lose its liability protections as an intermediary, meaning Twitter could face lawsuits over content.
Relations between the Indian government and Twitter have been thorny since the laws were passed.
In May last year, police raided Twitter’s office after the company labelled a tweet by Modi’s party spokesman as “manipulated media.”
That same month, WhatsApp sued the Indian government to defend what it said was its users’ privacy and stop new rules that would require it to make messages “traceable” to external parties. That case is still pending in an Indian court.
Experts have criticised the new rules and said they amount to censorship. They have also accused the Modi government of silencing criticism on social media, particularly Twitter. Modi's party denies the claim.
Police in New Delhi last week arrested a journalist over a tweet from 2018 that an anonymous Twitter user alleged was hurtful to sentiments of a “particular religion.”