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India is largest source of government information requests, but how many did Twitter comply with?

Twitter saw a 152 percent surge in demand for content removals from India while the Indian government sent more information requests than the US for the first time since 2012. 

According to Twitter’s biannual Transparency Report released on Wednesday, India is the largest source of government information requests and the second-largest source of content removal requests between July to December 2020, accounting for 25 percent and 18 percent of the global volume respectively.

However, Twitter complied with only about 1 percent of information requests and 9 percent of content removal requests.

Why this matters: Twitter has complied with very few requests in 2020, but the new IT Rules, which were notified in February 2021, contain provisions that require social media platforms to turn over information requested by the government within 72 hours of notice and remove content deemed unlawful by the government within 36 hours. Given this and the fact that Twitter is yet to fully comply with the new Rules, it will be interesting to see how Twitter responded to government requests for the January to June 2021 period, which is the same period in which the government issued orders to block more than 1,100 accounts related to the farmer’s protest and censor 52 tweets that mostly criticised India’s handling of the second surge of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Over the past year, we’ve experienced and continue to navigate severe global challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve also seen concerted attempts by governments to limit access to the Internet generally and to Twitter specifically,” the platform said in a blog post.

More details on information requests

India-specific statistics: Twitter received 3,463 routine requests and 152 emergency requests from the Indian government and it complied with 1 percent of the requests in both cases. Overall, there has been a 38 percent increase in information requests from the previous reporting period (January to June 2020).

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“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 report stated.

In the routine requests, a total of 7,508 accounts were specified and in the emergency requests, a total of 254 accounts were specified. The government also requested Twitter to preserve the data of 3,877 accounts pending the issuance of a valid legal process to obtain that data.

As for non-governmental requests, such as those from lawyers or criminal defendants, only 3 requests were made from India over this period.

Global statistics: Globally Twitter received 12,109 routine requests and 2,452 emergency requests and complied with 32.4 percent and 18.2 percent of these requests respectively, much higher than the India rate. A total of 51, 584 accounts were specified in both these types of requests.

Globally there has been a 15 percent increase in information requests compared to the last reporting period, but a decrease of 18 percent in compliance rate over the same period. The number of accounts specified in requests increased by 102 percent. “The total volume of requests and specified accounts are respectively the largest we’ve seen to date,” the report stated.

How does Twitter determine if it should respond to requests? “Where appropriate, Twitter will push back on requests for account information that are incomplete or improper, such as requests that are facially invalid or overbroad in scope. Depending on the circumstances, we may produce some data after working to narrow a request, or we may not disclose any data. We also may not have any responsive records to produce,” the report said.

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“Twitter narrowed or did not disclose information in response to 70% of global information requests, an increase of 7% during this reporting period,” the report added.

More details on content removal demands

India-specific statistics: In India, there were 15 content removal demands made by courts and 6,956 content removal demands made by other legal entities like governments or lawyers representing individuals. Out of these, Twitter complied with 73 percent of the court orders and 9 percent of the other legal demands. As part of this compliance, 60 accounts and 598 tweets were withheld in the country. In addition to this, 1,310 accounts were either suspended or some content was removed for not complying with Twitter’s Terms of Service and Rules.

Requests from India increased by 152 percent from the previous reporting period and a total of 128 content removal demands targetted verified journalists and news outlets.

Global statistics: Globally there were 1,540 content removal demands made by courts and 36,984 content removal demands made by other legal entities, asking Twitter to remove content specifying 131,933 accounts. Twitter complied with 20.5 percent and 29.1 percent of these demands respectively. As part of this compliance, 123 accounts and 2571 tweets were withheld.

Overall, there was a 9 percent decrease in legal content removal demands globally as well as an 8 percent decrease in the compliance rate. However, there was a 50 percent increase in the number of accounts withheld.

About 94 percent of the total global volume of legal demands originated from five countries alone: Japan, India, Russia, Turkey, and South Korea.

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