Forced to Pull Story on Indian Firm's Alleged Global Hacking Operation, Reuters to Fight Court Order

Additional district judge of Delhi's North West district court Rakesh Kumar Singh found the article to be prima facie “indicative of defamation”.

New Delhi: Following a Delhi court’s preliminary order, the news agency Reuters has temporarily removed a special investigation which claimed that an Indian information technology company, Appin, stole data from prominent persons around the globe, including politicians, military officials and business executives.

Reuters, however, said that it “stands by its reporting and plans to appeal the decision”.

An additional district judge of Delhi’s North West district court found the article to be prima facie “indicative of defamation”, according to a copy of the order seen by The Wire.

The special report was published on November 16, 2023 and was titled, ‘How an Indian Startup Hacked the World’.

In an Editor’s note published on December 5, Reuters said it had temporarily removed the article to comply with a preliminary court order issued on December 4.

In his order, additional district judge Rakesh Kumar Singh noted that he was prima facie satisfied that the special report was “indicative of defamation”, and that the website should not retain such an article in the public domain.

The court, however, clarified that this was only a prima facie opinion. The “defendants shall have sufficient opportunity to express their views through reply, contest in the main suit etc. and the final decision shall be taken subsequently”.

The court order was issued amid a pending lawsuit brought against Reuters in November 2022 by the lawyers of Appin Association of Training Centre, accusing the news agency of a defamatory campaign. “As set forth in its court filings, Reuters disputes those claims,” the agency stated.

Rajat Khare’s US representative, the law firm Clare Locke, rejected any association between its client and the cyber-mercenary business. It told Reuters that Khare “has never operated or supported, and certainly did not create, any illegal ‘hack for hire’ industry in India or anywhere else.”

Clare Locke said, “Mr. Khare has dedicated much of his career to the fields of information technology security – that is, cyber-defense and the prevention of illicit hacking.”

Khare’s lawyers said media articles tying him to hacking were “false” or “fundamentally flawed”.

Clare Locke, as quoted in the report, said under Khare’s tenure, Appin specialised in training thousands of students in cybersecurity, robotics and artificial intelligence, “never in illicit hacking”.

The lawyers said Khare left Appin in part because rogue actors were operating under the company’s brand and he wanted “to avoid the appearance of associations with people who were misusing the Appin name”.

The Delhi district judge, while ordering Reuters to take down the article, said the “balance of convenience” lies in directing the withdrawal of the content.

“I am of the opinion that even if the defendants for some period do not retain the article on the website and on that account they suffer any market value, [they] can be ultimately compensated by money from the plaintiff but the retention of such material on the website if allowed, the same may have devastating effect on the general students population of India (sic),” the court said.

In a filing, Reuters raised preliminary objections to the suit, including questioning the locus standi of the plaintiff.

This article was edited on December 18 at 7:25 pm.