Updated: May 28, 2021 7:08:00 am
Reacting sharply to a statement from Twitter about a “potential threat to freedom of expression” for its users in India, and “intimidation” by Delhi Police, the Union IT Ministry accused the social media platform of “scuttling free speech” with its “opaque policies” that result in accounts being suspended and tweets “deleted arbitrarily without response”.
“Twitter’s statement is an attempt to dictate its terms to the world’s largest democracy. Twitter refuses to comply with those very regulations in the Intermediary Guidelines on the basis of which it is claiming a safe harbour protection from any criminal liability in India,” the Government said.
The Delhi Police described Twitter’s statement as “mendacious” and “designed to impede a lawful inquiry” into the Congress complaint against allegations levelled by BJP leaders of a “toolkit” plot to malign the Prime Minister and Government.
On Sunday, police visited Twitter’s offices in Delhi and Gurgaon to serve notice asking the company’s top executives to reveal information that led them to label tweets alleging the “toolkit” plot as “manipulated media”.
The IT Ministry condemned Twitter’s statement as “totally baseless, false and an attempt to defame India to hide their own follies”. It said that the only instance of “scuttling free speech on Twitter is Twitter itself and its opaque policies, as a result of which people’s accounts are suspended and tweets deleted arbitrarily without response”.
“Law making and policy formulations is the sole prerogative of the sovereign and Twitter is just a social media platform and it has no locus in dictating what India’s legal policy framework should be,” the Ministry said.
Fault lines get deeper
The latest exchange sharpens the fault lines between Government and big tech companies. While privacy and security are the main sticking points, the issue between the lines is of control. What the court does in the WhatsApp case could shape the next steps in policy.
It said that Twitter’s employees “are and will always remain safe in India” and there is “no threat to their personal safety and security”.
Delhi Police PRO Chinmoy Biswal, said: “Twitter Inc. has taken upon itself, in the garb of terms of service, to adjudicate the truth or otherwise of documents in public space. Twitter Inc. is purporting to be both an investigating authority as well as an adjudicating judicial authority. It has no legal sanction to be either. The only legal entity, so empowered by the duly laid down law, to investigate is the Police and to adjudicate is the Courts.”
Referring to Twitter labelling the “toolkit” plot allegations as “manipulated media”, Biswal said: “While placing the cart before the horse, Twitter went ahead and declared that the toolkit was ‘Manipulated Media’. This clearly demonstrates that Twitter Inc. was acquainted with the facts of the case and it had material information which was germane to the inquiry by a duly recognized law enforcement agency. Therefore, Twitter was asked, by way of multiple communications, to join the inquiry to provide the information it possesses.”
Accusing Twitter of engaging in “unfounded and misplaced” fear-mongering, Biswal said: “The entire conduct by Twitter Inc, including its Indian entity, in the last few days, has been obfuscatory, diversionary, and tendentious. There is one simple thing to do which Twitter refuses to do. That is, cooperate with the law enforcement and reveal to the legal authority the information it has.”
Claiming that Twitter India executives said they are merely employees of the India office and have no role in the operations related to the probe, the police spokesperson said: “Twitter India’s convoluted stance is similar to a deer caught in the headlights.”
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