India made the most requests to Twitter seeking information about accounts, the social media company’s transparency report for July 2020 to December 2020 said on Wednesday.

Twitter said that it was the first time since it started publishing the report in 2012 that the United States was not at the top of the list. Japan (17%) and France (14%) followed India and the US in seeking information about accounts from Twitter, according to the report.

“India submitted the most government information requests during this reporting period, accounting for 25% of the global volume, and 15% of the global accounts specified,” the report said. “The second highest volume of requests originated from the United States, comprising 22% of global information requests and 60% of the global accounts specified.”

It said that Twitter received 1,096, or 46%, more routine requests from India as compared to January 2020 to July 2020 period. Routine requests are legal notices from the government that the social media company must adhere to and submit information of account concerned.

In the July-December 2020 period, India sent 3,463 routine requests and 152 emergency requests to Twitter. The latter are also legal requests seeking information about accounts. However, Twitter can choose to disclose information if it believes that there is a threat involving deaths or serious injury to a person and that the details can help avert the danger. The number of emergency requests dropped to 152 as compared to 246 from the earlier period.

Twitter said that it did not disclose information in response to 70% of global government information requests, an increase of 7% compared to the last reporting period.

Raman Chima, Asia-Pacific policy director at non-profit organisation Access Now, said India’s rise to the top position in seeking information requests was an alarming trend, reported the Hindustan Times. Access Now aims to extend digital civil rights to citizens across the world.

“This is also happening at a time when significant concerns are being raised around those who dissent in India by the government,” he said. “The Indian government must justify and explain how the orders are being sent. It also becomes even more critical for an independent oversight, under the new data protection law to be installed in the country.”

The Indian government and Twitter are locked in a standoff over the new information technology regulations. The new IT rules are a sweeping set of regulations which were announced in February and became effective in May framed to regulate social media companies, streaming and digital news content, virtually bringing them, for the first time, under the ambit of government supervision.

Under the new rules, social media platforms with over 50 lakh users also need to appoint chief compliance officers in order to make sure the rules are followed, nodal officers to coordinate with law enforcement agencies and grievance officers. All the personnel have to be based in India.

India has repeatedly criticised Twitter for not complying with the new regulations.

On July 5, the government told the Delhi High Court that Twitter had lost its “safe harbour immunity” because of that. This means that Twitter will be stripped of the protection social media websites have against legal proceedings for unlawful content posted by users if the court accepts the Centre’s submission.

The row between the social media platform and authorities in India escalated after the police filed four cases against Twitter in less than a month. Former Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had claimed that Twitter was deliberately defying the law.

Content removal requests

Twitter said that 94% of the requests it received for removing content came from five countries – Japan, India, Russia, Turkey, and South Korea. It noted that such requests dropped by 9% as compared to the last report but the number of accounts specified for removal of content at 1,31,933 was the highest since 2012, when the social media platform first published its transparency report.

India made 6,971 such requests and Twitter complied to removing 9.1%, or around 634, of them. Globally, the social media platform complied to removing 29%, or nearly 2,021, of these legal demands.

The report also said that there was a 26% increase in requests seeking to remove content from 199 accounts of verified journalists and media outlets. “These included removal requests from India (128), Turkey (108), Pakistan (52), and Russia (28),” it said.