Twitter has sued the Indian government to challenge some of its block orders on tweets and accounts, further escalating the tension between the American social giant and New Delhi.
In its lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Karnataka High Court, Twitter alleges that New Delhi has abused its power by ordering it to arbitrarily and disproportionately remove several tweets from its platform, a source familiar with the matter said.
The lawsuit follows a rough year and a half for Twitter in India, a key overseas market for the firm, where it has been asked to takedown hundreds of accounts and tweets, many of which critics argue were objected because they denounced the Indian government’s policies and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Twitter moved to the court after New Delhi threatened to open criminal proceedings against its chief compliance officer in India, a person familiar with the matter said.
A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment.
Twitter has partially complied with the requests over the past year and a half, but sought to fight back many of the challenges. Under India’s new IT rules, which went into effect last year, Twitter has little to no room left to individually challenge the takedown orders and noncompliance may result in legal actions against its compliance officer in the country.
The new IT rules required any large social media firm to appoint chief compliance officer, nodal contact person and resident grievance officer in the country to address local concerns.
The tension between the two was apparent on May 24 last year, when Delhi police, controlled by India’s central government, visited two offices of Twitter — in the national capital state of Delhi and Gurgaon, in the neighboring state of Haryana — to seek more information about Twitter’s rationale to label one of the tweets by ruling partly BJP spokesperson as “manipulated media.”
Delhi police said at the time that it had received a complaint about the classification of the spokesperson’s tweet and visited the offices to serve Twitter India’s head a notice of the inquiry. In a statement, the police said Twitter India’s managing director’s replies on the subject had been “very ambiguous.”
Twitter at the time described the episode as “intimidation.”
The company has “concerns with regards to the use of intimidation tactics by the police in response to enforcement of our global Terms of Service, as well as with core elements of the new IT Rules,” it said.
Twitter India managing director resigned from the firm last year.
Twitter is not the first tech giant to sue the Indian government. WhatsApp sued New Delhi last year, challenging new regulations that could allow authorities to make people’s private messages “traceable,” and conduct mass surveillance.
It’s unclear if the new lawsuit will have any impact on Twitter’s proposed acquisition by Elon Musk. Musk’s Tesla has been attempting to enter the Indian market for several years but wants the government to let it first sell and service imported cars first.