Centre opposes Twitter’s plea to set aside blocking orders under Section 69A of the IT Act

Says Twitter is habitually non-compliant and does not have the authority to decide whether a content threatens national security

TwitterImage: AFP

Recently, the Central Government filed its statement of objections before the Karnataka High Court with respect to the plea by Twitter to set aside the blocking orders as they fall foul of the narrowly tailored grounds of Section 69A of the IT Act.

In June 2022, the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MEITy) threatened to withdraw the safe harbour protection to Twitter under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethic Code) Rules, 2021, if Twitter failed to comply with its orders to block certain accounts by July 4, 2022.

In its statement of objections, the Centre stated that Twitter being an intermediary platform did not have the authority to define free speech and to decide what content would pose a threat to national security or public order issues.

The Centre alleged that Twitter is a habitual non-compliant platform and the petition is nothing but an attempt to challenge the compliance mandated under law, reported LiveLaw.

Section 69 (A) of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000, allows the Centre to issue directions for blocking of social media content “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence relating to above.”

Grounds for objecting the petition by Twitter as laid down by the Centre in its 101-page statement of objections, as reported by LiveLaw, are as follows:

1.     Petition is not maintainable: Remedy of writ under Article 226 or 32 of the Constitution is not available to a ‘foreign commercial entity’ merely operating in India. Centre further alleged that the petition is just a façade for seeking protection of information and data from being removed from its platform.

2.     Accounts sought to be blocked are unverified: The Centre claims that the accounts sought to be blocked are unverified without any evidence to prove they are being operated by the citizens of India

3.     Notice to users not required: The Centre claimed that when a person is not a citizen, the alleged non-furnishing of a notice under Rule 8 of the Blocking rules cannot be ground of it being violation of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. It claimed that twitter failed to verify the accounts as per IT Rules, 2021.

4.     Blocking orders for the safety of internet users: The Centre claimed that the blocking orders issued under Section 69A of the IT Act are issued for the online safety of its citizens.

5.     Twitter fails to prevent spread of fake news: The Centre claims that Twitter’s failure to curb the spread of fake news has led to the rising issues with respect to sovereignty, integrity, national security and public order. The Centre holds Twitter’s poor policy on hate content for the rising communal hate online.

6.     Blocking order in compliance of Information Technology Act: The Centre claims that Twitter falls within the purview of the IT Act and is thus bound to comply with the directions and orders. The IT Act provides for blocking of information from public access under certain specific circumstances.

7.     Compliance of Section 69 of the IT Act: The Centre claims that it has the power to monitor and regulate online content under Section 69A of the IT Act, 2000 which empowers the Designated Officer to block the public access of any information transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource. It further submitted that even the Review Committee constituted under the Blocking Rules, 2009 reviewed the blocking content and confirmed the validity of the blocking directions

8.     Twitter violates Freedom of Speech and Expression: The Centre pointed out how Twitter has been completely blocking or terminating many user accounts without any prior notice or affording any reasonable opportunity but when asked to do the same by the Centre it sought to revoke account level blocking and permit tweet level blocking.

In its petition, Twitter has alleged that the Ministry ordered them to block entire accounts, without even informing the company about the specific tweets that were made by the accounts that called for their blocking, reported the Indian Express. The company reportedly stated, “Several of the URLs contain political and journalistic content. Blocking of such information is a gross violation of the freedom of speech guaranteed to citizen-users of the platform.” It further stated that the Ministry failed to provide “proper reasons” for issuing the blocking orders as required under Section 69A of the IT Act.

While calling some of the blocking orders “unconstitutional”, the company says, “The blocking orders are challenged on the basis that they are procedurally and substantially non-compliant with Section 69A, are manifestly arbitrary, fail to provide the originators prior notice and are disproportionate in several cases,” reported the Indian Express.

As per reports, the accounts and tweets that were ordered to be blocked have been submitted to the court by Twitter in a sealed envelope, since Section 69 (A) orders are supposed to be kept confidential.

The matter is set to be heard on September 8, 2022.


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