The tussle between Twitter and the Indian government just escalated to the next level.
India’s technology minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, said on Friday that he was denied access to his Twitter account for almost an hour.
“Friends! Something highly peculiar happened today,” the minister said in one of the seven tweets he posted about the incident. “Twitter denied access to my account for almost an hour on the alleged ground that there was a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of the USA and subsequently they allowed me to access the account.”
“Per our copyright policy, we respond to valid copyright complaints sent to us by a copyright owner or their authorized representatives,” a Twitter spokesperson told CNN Business.
According to Twitter’s website, the company may respond to alleged copyright infringement by locking accounts if multiple complaints are received.
Tensions between Silicon Valley companies and the Indian government are already running high over strict new rules which tech companies fear will erode privacy, usher in mass surveillance and harm business in the world’s fastest growing market. India says these rules will help maintain national security.
Prasad, who is a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, did not specify which post of his was flagged, but he did say that his “statements calling out the high handedness and arbitrary actions of Twitter, particularly sharing the clips of my interviews to TV channels and its powerful impact, have clearly ruffled its feathers.”
He also posted the same statement on Koo, an Indian rival to Twitter that is touted by Modi and used enthusiastically by several officials and ministries in his government.
Prasad, who has 5 million followers on Twitter, added that the Silicon Valley giant has violated the new IT rules, which came into effect last month, because “they failed to provide me any prior notice before denying me access to my own account.”
Twitter has been in a high-stakes standoff with the Indian government since the beginning of this year. In February, the company clashed with the tech ministry after it ordered accounts to be taken down during mass protests by farmers. Twitter ultimately complied with some requests but refused to take action against accounts of journalists, activists or politicians.
In May, police turned up at Twitter’s office in New Delhi after the company decided to label a tweet from a spokesperson for Modi’s ruling party as “manipulated media.” Police said the routine visit was to get Twitter to cooperate with its investigation. The social media company blasted the move as “intimidation tactics” and said that it was “concerned” about the safety its employees in the country.
India’s new IT rules have only intensified the chill. They include demands that companies create special roles in India to keep them in compliance with local law, and for firms to stay in contact with law enforcement 24/7. They also require companies to trace the “first originator” of messages if asked by authorities, a requirement over which WhatsApp has sued the Indian government.
Twitter has said it has concerns about “core elements of the new IT Rules,” and the “potential threat to freedom of speech” in the country. Prasad, on the other hand, has accused the company of taking the “path of deliberate defiance.”
“Indian companies be it pharma, IT or others that go to do business in USA or in other foreign countries, voluntarily follow the local laws,” the minister said on Twitter earlier in June. “Then why are platforms like Twitter showing reluctance in following Indian laws designed to give voice to the victims of abuse and misuse?”
After signaling its reservations with the new social media rules last month, the company has since said it remains “deeply committed” to India, which is among its largest markets in the world.
“We have assured the Government of India that Twitter is making every effort to comply with the new guidelines, and an overview on our progress has been duly shared,” the company said in a statement in this month. “We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Indian government.”