The feud between Twitter and the Indian government has just reached a new high point.
Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s technology minister, said on Friday that he was denied access to his Twitter account for nearly 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.”
Twitter (TWTR) confirmed that Prasad’s account had been temporarily disabled and that one of his tweets had been removed.
“We respond to valid copyright complaints sent to us by a copyright owner or their authorized representatives, as per our copyright policy,” a Twitter spokesperson told CNN Business.
If multiple complaints about alleged copyright infringement are received, Twitter may respond by locking accounts, according to the company’s website.
Tensions are already high between Silicon Valley companies and the Indian government over strict new rules that tech companies fear will erode privacy, usher in mass surveillance, and harm business in the world’s fastest growing market. These rules, India claims, will aid in maintaining national security.
Prasad, a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, did not say which of his posts had been 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 made the same statement on Koo, an Indian version of Twitter that Modi promotes and which is embraced by several officials and ministries in his administration.
Prasad, who has a Twitter following of 5 million, went on to say that the Silicon Valley behemoth had broken the new IT rules that went into effect last month because “they failed to provide me with any prior notice before denying me access to my own account.”
Since the beginning of this year, Twitter has been locked in a high-stakes battle with the Indian government. During mass farmer protests in February, the company clashed with the tech ministry, which ordered accounts to be taken down.
Some requests were eventually granted, but Twitter refused to take action against journalists, activists, or politicians’ accounts.
Police were called to Twitter’s New Delhi office in May after the company decided to label a tweet from a spokesperson for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party as “manipulated media.” The purpose of the routine visit, according to police, was to persuade Twitter to cooperate with their investigation. The social media company slammed the move as “intimidation tactics,” saying it was “concerned” about its employees’ safety in the country.
India’s new IT rules have only added to the jitters. They include demands that companies create special roles in India to ensure that they comply with local law, as well as that companies stay in contact with law enforcement 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They also require companies to track the “first originator” of messages if authorities request it, a requirement that WhatsApp has challenged in court.
Twitter has expressed concern about “core elements of the new IT Rules” as well as the country’s “potential threat to freedom of speech.” Prasad, on the other hand, has charged the firm with “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 expressing reservations about the new social media rules last month, the company has since stated that India remains “deeply committed.” India is one of the company’s largest markets worldwide.
In a statement earlier this month, Twitter said, “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. We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Indian government.”