A report submitted to the Madras High Court details the number of requests made to social media giants by law enforcement agencies in Tamil Nadu regarding the removal of content and account information.

Social media companies removed 50-65 content as per our request TN govt
news Tech Monday, July 08, 2019 - 17:52

In a report submitted to the Madras High Court, the Tamil Nadu government has revealed details regarding the number of requests from law enforcement authorities in the state that Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Google have complied with and those pending before the social media giants. The report, submitted on behalf of the Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary, forms part of the government documents laid before the court in connection with a Public Interest Litigation (PIL). The PIL seeks to link social media accounts of individuals with the Aadhaar, in order to force social media giants to cooperate in cyber crime investigations.

The report, filed by the Deputy Secretary to Government, Information Technology Department, classifies requests by law enforcement agencies in the state to the tech companies under three categories— Account Information & IP Logs request, Content requests and Content removal requests. 

According to the report, city police across the state have made the maximum number of requests, primarily for removal of content. A total of 1,636 requests have been made to Facebook as of June this year by law enforcement authorities in the state. The CBCID has primarily sought account information and Internet Protocol details while city police has mainly asked for content removal. The city police have made 276 account information requests, of which Facebook has furnished details for 141. Of the 902 content removal requests sent, Facebook has complied with 584, which is 65 percent. As for district police, they have made 175 requests for account information and IP logs of which Facebook has furnished details in 50 percent of the cases. 166 content removal requests were made by the district police across the state with regard to removal of content, of which Facebook has removed content in 95 instances. Overall, 1093 content removal requests were made of which 62 percent of these requests lead to Facebook removing 683 posts. 

Interestingly, of the social media companies, YouTube received the second highest number of content removal requests from law enforcement agencies in Tamil Nadu. A total of 252 requests were made, mostly by the city police, for content removal. YouTube responded positively in 131 instances, removing 55 percent of the content.

Similarly, YouTube's parent company Google has been sent a total of 137 requests by law enforcement in the state, seeking account information. In 106 cases, Google has provided this information.

However, the report by the state government does not reveal the nature of these requests or the circumstances under which they were made. It is unclear if most of these posts were political in nature or were asked to be removed because of their criminal nature. While social media companies do have reporting mechanisms, it is unclear how the government has opted to use them or have classified the cases for each complaint they have received or indeed the nature of these complaints. The additional information would make for insightful reading of the figures submitted by the government.

For example, the report reveals that 16 content removal requests were made to WhatsApp, of which none were complied with. However, WhatsApp is a direct messaging platform where the company has little control over the content shared among its users.

As far as Twitter is concerned, law enforcement has sought account information and IP logs in 31 cases and content removal in 15 cases of which they have been complied with in 18 and 8 instances respectively. Here too, the low numbers for this social media platform are unexplained by any supporting information.

At a meeting of social media companies and law enforcement agencies from the state, held in May this year, the companies explained why they could not always comply with requests of law enforcement agencies in every case. For example, social media companies noted that they often receive requests for information from unofficial email addresses of police officials which makes it difficult to gauge who is sending a request. Some social media companies said that they did not retain certain specific information requested by the agencies or, since these companies are headquartered in the USA, that they are restricted by American law to share such information.

Even as the controversial PIL has been slammed for the massive implications on individual's privacy, the Madras High Court has allowed the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) to intervene as petitioners in the case. The IFF has opposed the linking of Aadhaar to social media accounts citing the concerns to individual liberties.

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