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Human rights groups call on tech firms to uphold privacy & free speech in India following govt. abuses

“The Indian government has taken various measures that violate free expression and privacy rights in response to growing international criticism of its handling of the farmers protests,” Access Now, ARTICLE 19, the Association for Progressive Communications, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Derechos Digitales, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, Mnemonic, Reporters Without Borders, and WITNESS said today.

... Delhi police said that they had written to Google and other technology companies in February, seeking user information... The police said they are also seeking information from the video conferencing application Zoom about those who attended a meeting about preparing the toolkit, and from WhatsApp about a group created to support farmers protests. Revealing protected information of a user exercising their rights to free expression and peaceful assembly would be inconsistent with companies’ responsibilities under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the groups said.

... Human Rights Watch wrote to Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Zoom about recent government takedown and blocking orders and information sought by the government in the Disha Ravi case. Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, replied that while it could not comment on individual cases for privacy reasons, public reporting indicated that Ravi’s WhatsApp chats were obtained following her arrest, suggesting the police gained access to her mobile device after taking her into custody. No reply has been received from Google and Zoom.

Since January 31, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has directed Twitter in several separate orders to shut down over 1,000 accounts under section 69A of the Information Technology Act, claiming they were spreading misinformation on farmers protests. Twitter initially complied but then said that it would not take action on accounts belonging to news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians, posting that: “To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law.”

Companies, including social media platforms, have a responsibility to respect human rights independent of a government’s willingness to fulfill its human rights obligations.