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Indian Govt information requests to Twitter increased due to Delhi riots and COVID-19 pandemic

Twitter

Between January and June 2020, governments and law enforcement agencies in India sent 2,613 information requests to Twitter , more than thrice the amount of requests (789) sent in  July-December 2019, according to Twitter latest transparency report. Twitter received 1,705 more requests from India, while the number of accounts specified increased by 3,223, up by 258% and 120% respectively. “This stark increase was related to riots in Delhi and COVID-19 related requests,” Twitter said. 

In fact, requests sent from India between Jan-Jun 2020 accounted for 44% of all requests ever sent by the country since 2012 (totaling to 5,900 requests), when Twitter released its first transparency report. 

India’s information requests between Jan-Jun 2020 was second to the United States, and accounted for 21% of all global requests from governments and nearly 25% of all accounts specified, which refers to the particular accounts that governments wanted action upon in the legal requests. From India, 6,346 accounts were specified, an increase of 120% from 2,873 accounts in the previous period.

However, it’s worth noting that Twitter only complied with 1% of information requests. Twitter’s compliance rate since 2012 for India stands at 7.8%. 

Information requests sent by law enforcement and governments from India

  1. Government information requests: 2,613, of which 246 requests were emergency and the remaining 2,367 requests were routine
  2. Accounts specified: 6,346 accounts, 5,906 accounts in routine requests and 440 in emergency requests
  3. Preservation requests: 2,892; 2,366 accounts and 526 requests
  4. Compliance rate: 1% of routine requests and 0.8% of emergency requests, totaling to a 1% compliance rate

Emergency requests involve danger of death or serious physical to a person that Twitter may have the information to prevent, such as in cases of suicide reports, a terrorist attack, or bomb threat.  

Twitter also temporarily preserves account information pertaining to an investigation, at the request of governments of law enforcement agencies. The accounts are preserved for a period of 90 days, “pending issuance and service of valid legal process”. India accounted for 18% of all requests, and the United States for 58% of all global requests, which itself shot up by 75% from the previous period. 

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Removal requests from India triple

Twitter received 2,771 legal demands from India to remove or withhold accounts or tweets. Total demands for removing or withholding content from India more than tripled from 782 requests in July-Dec 2019. Only 4 of these were court orders, and 2,768 were “other legal demands”. With 1,990 new demands, removal requests from India increased by more than 254%. Twitter also withheld 62 allegedly defamatory tweets in response to an interim injunction in a court order. 

Such requests cover demands to withhold or remove accounts and tweets from third-parties under country-specific laws. Law enforcement agencies, government officials, and third-parties can ask for potentially illegal content or accounts to be withheld, as per Twitter’s policies.  Between Jan-Jun 2020, 96% of all legal demands came from only five countries: Japan, Russia, South Korea, Turkey, and India in decreasing order. India accounted for 7% of all demands, but accounts specified in requests from India increased by 69%. 

Between Jan-Jun 2020, Twitter received a record 42,220 legal demands globally, which specified a record 85,375 accounts. Some or all of the reported content in 31% of these demands were met by Twitter, it said. This means that Twitter found only a third of the legal demands legitimate per its policies. 

Removal Requests from India 

  1. Compliance rate: 13.9%; 25% for court orders, and 13.8% for other legal demands. Compliance rate fell from 36.7% in the previous reporting period. 
  2. Accounts specified: 13,200 accounts, 9 accounts in court orders, 13,191 in other legal demands. Accounts specified have also significantly increased by 68% from 7,834 accounts in the previous period.
  3. Accounts withheld: 17, up from 16 in the previous period
  4. Tweets withheld: 377, down from 1,481 in the previous period
  5. Account TOS; 1,159, all of which were on account of other legal demands, up from 992 in the previous period 

Tweets and accounts previously withheld were also restored, either because of a successful appeal to the previous order or because a legal procedure expired. The Election Commission of India sent Twitter eight such legal demands “related to the elections held in February 2020” i.e. the Delhi Assembly elections. Twitter withheld eight of those tweets, six temporarily and two indefinitely during the silent period. The six accounts were later restored. 

149 demands from India for action on journalists’ Twitter accounts

India sent Twitter 149 legal demands for action on accounts of verified journalists and news outlets, followed by 142 demands from Turkey. Globally, 158 accounts of verified journalists and news outlets from around the world were subject to 333 legal demands, a 22% decrease in the number of accounts since the previous reporting period. 

Two tweets were withheld in India under Section 69A of the IT Act 2000, which empowers the Indian government to ban any online communication that threatens India’s defence, sovereignty and integrity, friendly relations with foreign countries and public order. Twitter said it did not act on the remaining demands, since they fell under its “protected speech” policies.

Terms of Service Violations

In these case, tweets or accounts are removed in response to legal demands, when they were found to be violating Twitter’s own terms of use. Twitter received a legal demand from the government of India to remove 196 URLs under the IT Act. 125 tweets and 17 accounts of these were removed under Twitter’s hateful conduct or spam policies, and another 22 were withheld for violating local laws. 

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We take an objective approach to reviewing legal demands for possible violations of Twitter’s TOS. The fact that the reporters in these cases may be involved in litigation, or may be government / law enforcement officials, had no bearing on whether any action was taken under Twitter’s TOS. This approach is consistent with our commitment to free expression. — Twitter transparency report 

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