Anonymity not a fundamental right, says Centre in Twitter case | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Anonymity not a fundamental right, says Centre in Twitter case

By, New Delhi
Sep 02, 2022 04:25 AM IST

The government’s stand came in response to a petition by Twitter, which opposed the Centre’s orders to block accounts 39 accounts last year.

There is no fundamental right of anonymity under the constitution, the Union government has emphasised before the Karnataka high court, defending its power to block “unverified, untraceable and anonymous” Twitter users.

There is no fundamental right of anonymity under the constitution, the Union government has emphasised before the Karnataka high court, defending its power to block “unverified, untraceable and anonymous” Twitter users. (Agencies/Representative use)
There is no fundamental right of anonymity under the constitution, the Union government has emphasised before the Karnataka high court, defending its power to block “unverified, untraceable and anonymous” Twitter users. (Agencies/Representative use)

The government’s stand came in response to a petition by Twitter, which opposed the Centre’s orders to block accounts 39 accounts last year. The government contended the social media company was “not taking effective steps to prevent the spread of fake news or deliberate misinformation, and as such, misinformation content relating to sovereignty and integrity, national security or public order related issues are on the rise.”

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Demanding dismissal of Twitter’s petition, the Centre’s affidavit added that “the content management policies of Twitter are a failure” and do not efficiently control or prevent misinformation tweets or comments from being published.

Submitting its statement of objections, the Centre told the high court that the foreign microblogging website is using the legal processes of India without any jurisdiction to claim a fundamental right with the objective of disguising its non-compliance with the Indian laws and to further its commercial interests.

“The present petition filed under the pretext of procedural non-compliance of Section 69A is nothing but a subterfuge and a device to overreach, defy and circumvent the lawful orders passed by competent authority of the sovereign country and to assert commercial power, showcase immunities from laws and absolute monopoly in the relevant international market,” stated the Centre’s affidavit in the high court.

Section 69A of the 2000 Information Technology Act gives competent authorities under the law the power to issue directions to block any information through any computer resource.

The government added that the accounts blocked by it were unverified accounts and that there is nothing to show as to whether the said accounts are operated by citizens of India or are fake, anonymous or bots.

“Furthermore, there is no fundamental right of anonymity under Part III of the constitution. The only right guaranteed is the right to remain silent. As fortiori (as a result), the petitioner (Twitter) cannot defend Article 19 rights (freedom of speech and expression) of its unverified, untraceable and anonymous users. The said right is only available to an identified citizen of the country,” maintained the government.

It also countered Twitter’s argument that the blocking orders were bad in law for failing to provide notices to the originators of the content and are disproportionate in several cases. The government said while it has no legal duty to give prior notice to unverified and anonymous accounts, Twitter is obligated to share details of verified accounts with the designated officers in cases of verified accounts.

Twitter moved the high court after the Union electronics and information technology ministry, through a notice on June 26 this year, warned it of penal action against its chief compliance officer, and granted it last opportunity to comply with a series of blocking orders issued in 2021. The company argued that the orders are procedurally and substantially deficient of Section 69A requirements and that they demonstrate excessive use of powers and are disproportionate.

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In its 96-page response, the central government questioned the very maintainability of the plea, saying Twitter, being just a mere intermediary and also a foreign company, has no right or locus to defend the blockage of information data hosted on its platform by a third party.

Twitter swiftly removed posts that it perceives to be violative of its own policies but the alacrity is not found in lawful compliance with court orders or government directions, the government also said.

Reminding the company of its legal obligations, the government underscored that the IT Act will override any policies made by Twitter. “No platform is exempt from compliance for reasons of jurisdiction or nationality or non-applicability of laws or tags of global company. Foreign platforms providing services in the country shall not be entitled to claim that the Indian Laws and Rules are not applicable upon them. Any such claim is legally untenable,” it said.

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