Social media platform Twitter has challenged the orders of the Government of India regarding removal of materials in the Karnataka High Court.
The Indian government sent a letter to Twitter in June, warning of “serious consequences” for not complying with such orders.
A few hours after the matter of Twitter’s petition came to light, Union Minister Rajiv Chandrashekhar tweeted that all foreign Internet platforms will have to follow Indian law.
Twitter has more than 40 million users in India.
Twitter, in its plea before the Karnataka High Court, has sought judicial review of some of the materials which are included in the blocking orders. He has also requested the court to grant relief by staying these orders.
The BBC has seen the petition, which says that the account blocking is an excessive step that violates the rights of the users under the constitution, especially when the URL and the reason for blocking the account is not clear And only it should be written that it was done under section 69-A.
The petition further states that it has not been shown that these accounts contain materials, most of which are covered under the grounds of section 69-A.
The Ministry of Electronics and IT itself has said in the Delhi High Court that if some such material or any part is found to be illegal, then action can be taken to remove only that part. Therefore that user account should not be suspended completely. The ministry also wrote that the last action should be to block the entire user account.
Twitter said, “Twitter cooperates with the Ministry to discuss these materials, and this is an ongoing process between the Ministry and Twitter.”
Directions may be given under section 69-A of the IT Act, 2000 not to make any information accessible through any computer.
Twitter’s petition states- “A system of review has been made under the blocking rules of this Act. Under this, a review committee sees that the directions issued under these rules are recorded in section 69-A of this law.” Are covered under Aadhaar or not. If the committee feels that these directions do not come under these grounds, it can withhold those directions and issue orders to unblock these materials.”
Twitter has written that the orders issued to block the accounts and content appear to be arbitrary, notice has not been given to those who have these accounts or who have posted these materials, and they are inconsistent in many respects. Also, many contain political materials that have been posted from the official handles of political parties.
Twitter says that blocking such content is a violation of the freedom of expression of citizens using their platform.
Twitter has said that it is committed to the principles of openness and transparency and that the details of the requests to withhold the content have been and will continue to be published on Lumen.
Twitter further said that they cannot share the full details of the petition related to the directions for blocking as these are confidential under the Blocking Rules and the matter is subject to court.
Twitter said, “Some of these have also been asked to block content that relates to certain events. As per Twitter’s information, such blocking orders have not been reviewed under Indian law. Therefore it is possible That such content has become irrelevant now but still it should be blocked. However, it is for the court to decide.
Twitter says that in cases of many blocking orders, the procedure under section 69 of the IT Act has not been followed.
Twitter has said in its petition that the blocking orders do not comply with Section 69A as many of these cases are related to political speeches, criticism and news content. In these cases, the ground of section 69A cannot be challenged. Many such blocking orders were also given to Twitter which alludes to section 69A. But do not discuss in detail how this content violates this section of the IT Act.
In June 2022, the Union Ministry of Information Technology sent a letter to Twitter, writing that the violation of Indian law would have dire consequences. The government had given Twitter one last chance to implement the blocking orders under Section 69A. In the absence of this, there was talk of registering a criminal case against the Chief Compliance Officer of the company.
Failure to do so will result in Twitter forfeiting its legal exemption under Section 79(1) of the IT Act.
Due to the seriousness of these threats on the part of the government, Twitter has challenged such blocking orders in a writ petition filed before the Karnataka High Court. These blocking orders are being challenged on the ground that they do not comply with the procedural and conditions of section 69A. That is, show excessive use of the powers of the government. Twitter says that in many cases, the government has been asking to block Twitter accounts.
What is section 69A of IT Act
Under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, the Ministry of Technology is empowered to order platforms such as Twitter to block any content.
This happens in cases where the ministry has determined that it is necessary to block the content reported under specific grounds in section 69A. If the government thinks that any material may affect the “sovereignty and integrity of India, the defense of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states or peoples”, it can order it to be blocked. Apart from this, if any content incites to a cognizable offense on the above subjects, then it can also be ordered to be blocked.
Once the blocking order from the government goes to Twitter, it is given an opportunity to respond. Twitter can register its objections on these subjects in regular meetings with the ministry. After these talks the final blocking order can be given.
If Twitter does not fully or partially comply with the final blocking order, the ministry may issue a notice to it, which may lead to a penalty process that could result in a jail term of up to seven years and a fine.
Twitter has said in a petition filed in the Karnataka High Court that under the new IT Act that came in February 2021, Twitter’s Chief Compliance Officer can be held personally responsible for not implementing the blocking order. Twitter has said that this is a matter of concern.