The Indian government has accused X Corp (formerly known as Twitter) of being a “habitual non-complaint platform” in a recent court filing.
“X-Corp does not follow the law of the land,” the government said, adding that this lowered “the authority of the law, judiciary and executive”.
The document, accessed by the BBC, was filed by the government in response to an appeal by X in a court in the south Indian state of Karnataka.
X has not commented on the filing.
X is appealing against a recent order of the high court which dismissed its challenge to several government orders to block certain accounts and posts. The court had also imposed a fine of 5m rupees ($60,208; £48,450) on X for not complying with several such orders for over a year.
It asked the company to deposit half of the penalty – that is 2.5m rupees – and stayed the rest until further orders.
Responding to X’s appeal, in a court filing on 24 August, the government argued that the court should reject the company’s demands. Details around the filing became public when Reuters news agency first reported the story earlier this week.
In the filing, the government said all of its blocking orders were given after following legal processes and in the interest of India’s sovereignty and security. In several instances, the government said, X either did not follow blocking orders for a long period or unblocked accounts and tweets “for reasons unknown” after blocking them.
This was deliberate non-compliance and an “abetment to offenses of publishing prohibited content”, according to the government.
It also argued that by filing the petition, X has tried to “exert pressure upon the government” while not complying with its orders. The government also clarified that “while there are millions of users in India and millions of tweets are posted by Indians, the government is not seeking blocking every tweet”.
India has been increasingly asking X to block content. In 2022, it blocked 3,417 Twitter URLs, whereas in 2014, only eight URLs were blocked.
In June, former CEO Jack Dorsey alleged that the government had requested removal of several tweets and accounts linked to the farmers’ protest in 2020.
It was also asked to censor journalists critical of the government, he said. Mr Dorsey alleged that the Indian government had threatened to shut the platform and raid employees’ houses in the country.
The government denied these allegations and accused the company of violating local laws.
X and the government have been at loggerheads for the past few years. The government has said the firm risked losing its intermediary status and “safe harbour” protection given in law.
These protections apply to platforms such as Facebook and X that host user generated content and safeguard them from liability for what users post. Experts say that losing this safeguard would be a death-knell for any social media company to operate in India.
The government pointed this out to the court in its latest submissions. For instance, it said that X had to mandatorily appoint a “resident grievance officer” under Indian laws, which it did not do until a court remarked that this non-compliance could attract penalty.
“Habitually, the Appellant platform [X] ensures compliance only after the court warns it of action/consequences for non-compliance,” the government said in its affidavit.
X has argued that the government’s orders to block several accounts relating to widespread farmer’s protest were not “consistent with Indian law” and against X’s (then Twitter) principle of protecting free speech.
The government noted that X’s “compliance rates with government requests have been significantly low”, prompting the government to issue show-cause notice to the company.
In another instance, the government pointed out that the company complied with the take down order only when it became a part of court proceedings.
The government reiterated that compliance with Indian laws cannot be seen as an “option or hurdle to business” and if the company did not comply, it could risk losing protection and attract penal action.
It further cautioned that platforms cannot “take the role of arbitrator/regulator of online content” and define “what free speech is”.
The instances cited by the government took place before X was acquired by billionaire Elon Musk in 2022. Under Musk’s leadership, the company has complied with takedown orders. After a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the US, Mr Musk said that the company had to mandatorily “obey local government laws” or it would risk getting shut.
This is the first case of a social media company suing the Indian government over its takedown orders, which makes its final outcome significant.
Rights activists have criticised the government’s content blocking orders for being vague and opaque. The court’s verdict in this case could