This Website Tracked Hate Crimes in India. Then the Government Took It Offline

Hindutva Watch, with its more than 79,000 subscribers on examples of BJP politicians launching anti-Muslim rhetoric does not help strengthen the party's image. The cases documented by Hindutva Watch also run counter to the image of an American ally. committed to “freedom, democracy, human rights, inclusion, pluralism and equal opportunities for all citizens”, as proclaimed in a joint statement issued during Modi's visit to the United States in June 2023.

And Chima says that right now, before the official campaign begins in India, is a critical time to control the information ecosystem. Once elections begin in earnest, it will be more difficult for government officials working for the executive branch to issue blocking orders without risking violating the country's election code.

“We're concerned about the signal they're trying to send to tech platforms, that these are people the government doesn't want to see on the web,” he says. “Between now and the end of February, these are the only times when the government will send as many messages as possible using these kinds of tools.

Mishi Choudhary, an attorney and general counsel at Virtu and former legal director of the Software Freedom Law Center, says the laws surrounding these blocking orders are particularly insidious because the government is not required to explain what is going on. a website, account or piece of content is dangerous or infringing, making it difficult for platforms, ISPs or users to respond.

“They don’t know what’s really going on,” she said. And although they are supposed to be issued by the courts, blocked websites or users are “never heard”.

“The orders are issued entirely by executive branch officials. There are no independent controls,” says Chima. “It is the officials who decide whether orders should be carried out and it is the officials who then review their own orders. You can’t even get copies of the data on the orders themselves, on the blocked orders, because the government says it’s confidential.”

And for platforms, resisting these takedown orders can prove difficult, if not impossible, especially in such a populous country: India is X's third-largest market, with a few 30 million users. In 2021, as thousands of farmers protested against the new agricultural laws, MeitY published hundreds of blocking of orders at X, then Twitter. The platform challenged several orders in court, arguing that many of them did not meet the government's removal standards. But in July 2023, the matter was rejectedand a $61,000 fine was imposed on the company for not executing the withdrawals quickly enough.

India also has what many experts call “hostage-taking laws” which require platforms to appoint a legal representative in the country who can be held accountable, or even arrested, if a platform does not comply with government orders. After Elon Musk took over as CEO of Access Now to alert them of blocking orders, making it even more difficult. discern what is really happening.

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