Explainer: Legal notices to users: Twitter says it prefers to protect free speech

KARACHI: In view of a surge in legal requests for content removal from Pakistani authorities to Twitter, the micro-blogging website has said its policy is to err on the side of freedom of expression.

It has further clarified that when it receives an official report against an account or tweet, it does not necessarily mean that it will take action on that report.

“We have a specially trained team that reviews each report against the Twitter Rules and our Terms of Service (ToS) and determines whether or not it is in violation,” a Twitter spokesperson told Dawn.

On Monday, lawyer Reema Omer took to the micro-blogging website to point out that Twitter had received “official correspondence” that three of her tweets were in violation of the Pakistani law.

“Interesting times where ‘officials’ see references to the law — i.e., the Constitution + judgements of high courts — as a violation of the law,” she had said, sharing screenshots of her tweets wherein she had questioned the status of military courts under the Constitution.

However, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry denied the government’s involvement in reporting the lawyer’s tweets about military courts to Twitter, saying it was an academic debate and the government had no reason to question it.

In recent months many local and international users have reported they have received notices from Twitter saying complaints have been filed that their tweets are “in violation of the Pakistani law”.

“We are writing to inform you that Twitter has received official correspondence regarding your Twitter account, Twitter has not taken any action on the reported content at this time. We are only writing to inform you that content posted to your account has been mentioned in a complaint,” reads the alert in such cases.

Twitter, however, maintained that it was committed to “transparency and empowerment” and determined to protect its users’ personal interests.

The Twitter official pointed out that the reported content was reviewed for any indications that the legal request sought to restrict or “freeze” freedom of expression raised other Twitter policy concerns (accounts belonging to journalists, verified accounts or accounts containing political speech).

What constitutes a legal request?

Twitter sometimes receives legal requests alleging that content posted to Twitter may be illegal in one or more countries around the world. For example, the content allegedly may be in violation of laws related to defamation or against national security. Requests may also be filed that a particular content is potentially in violation of Twitter’s ToS or Rules.

These requests in the form of subpoenas, court orders or other legal documents cite a statute or other law in association with some sort of claim or demand.

In Pakistan’s case, the government — as mentioned in the website’s transparency report — specified tweets for violation of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA).