Some Twitter users served notices on law agencies seeking action: Details absent

Nearly a week after cartoonist Manjul and retired Indian Administrative Service officer Surya Pratap Singh were sent notices by Twitter, informing them that law enforcement agencies in India had sought action against their accounts, another such mail has also been sent to fact checking platform Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair.

Mails sent to Manjul, Singh and Zubair do not mention the details of the law enforcement agency that had raised the legal request asking Twitter to take action against the said account.

Industry sources, however, said that all such requests made to Twitter are always routed through the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY). Ministry officials denied any involvement in notices sent either to Manjul, Singh or Zubair.

Sources at the Ministry, however, did confirm that it was on the request of the Ministry of Home Affairs that IT Ministry had written to Twitter asking it to block the account of Indo-Canadian pop singer Jaswinder Singh Bains or JazzyB under section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. “This handle was being used to post inflammatory posts provoking communal sentiments by glorifying Sikh militancy in Punjab and pro-Khalistan feelings on the anniversary of Operation Blue Star,” a source at the Ministry told The Indian Express.

Twitter did not respond to mails seeking to know which law enforcement agency had sought action against Manjul’s account, while IT Ministry also did not respond to an emailed questionnaire seeking to know which law enforcement agency had sought their help in escalating the complaint.

As per its policy, Twitter, through an email, notifies users “of the existence of a legal request” pertaining to a particular account, unless it is prohibited from doing the same, or the request raised by the law enforcement agency falls into one of the exceptions to our user notice policy such as emergencies regarding imminent threat to life, child sexual exploitation, and terrorism.

When the platform receives such a request, an agent at Twitter reviews the legal request to determine whether it meets relevant statutory requirements. If the said request raised meets “all relevant statutory requirements”, the agent reviews the said account or tweet to determine whether the request seeks to “restrict or chill freedom of expression” or raises any other concerns related to the platform’s policies.

“The problem with the current system is that even the smallest unit of law enforcement, which could be a constable in any police station across India, can raise a complaint through the legal request submission site of Twitter and the platform has to acknowledge it,” a privacy expert who has worked closely with the government said.

While it was the first time that Manjul had received such a notice from Twitter, Zubair said he had over the last year received 10-12 such notices. “Most of the Twitter notices I have been getting are about removing the tweet based on some complaint. Only one notice I received in April was about my account overall. The request raised could be from any of the state police,” he said.

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