Twitter blocks accounts and withholds tweets of Kashmiri activists after government ‘asks’ it to

India:  Twitter has blocked several accounts and withheld dozens of tweets in many others after it received official communication from the Indian government asking it to block accounts and tweets, most of these related to Kashmir, reported the Indian Express, a news agency based in India.

In a letter dated August 24, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology asked Twitter to block 19 accounts, most of these with tweets about Kashmir. It additionally mentioned 95 tweets in various handles, also on Kashmir, which it wanted to be blocked. In an earlier communication dated August 16, the government had identified 95 accounts to be blocked, in addition to tweets, Twitter searches and hashtags.

An e-mail an activist claimed to have received from Twitter. With Kashmir Image.

Invoking Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, the ministry wrote to Twitter on August 24 that a request from law enforcement agencies for blocking 115 Twitter handles/ tweets had been received. A committee to examine the requests had met on August 4 and recommended blocking or removal of the tweets or accounts in the “interest of public order as well as for preventing any cognizable offence”.

Under the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009, a committee of joint secretaries, from the ministries of IT, law and justice, home affairs, information and broadcasting and the Indian Computer Emergency Response, can decide on any content to be blocked under the IT Act.

The ministry also asked for a compliance report from Twitter.

The Indian Express tried to access many of the mentioned links, most of which led to either a suspended account or a deleted tweet. But several of the mentioned links were still accessible. Twitter wrote to multiple account holders over the weekend, telling them it had got “official communication” regarding their handles and the “correspondence claims that the following tweet(s) is/are in violation of Indian law”.

It said: “We may be obligated to take action regarding the content identified in the complaint in future.” Twitter asked the account holders if they would voluntarily remove the identified content.

Responding to a questionnaire sent by The Indian Express, Twitter said it does not comment on individual accounts for security and privacy concerns. The “Country Withheld Policy” of the company states: “Many countries have laws that may apply to tweets and/or Twitter account content…. If we receive a valid and properly scoped request from an authorized entity, it may be necessary to reactively withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time.”

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