Govt notice to Twitter over restored handles, warns firm of action

The notice states that Twitter move violates Sec 69 (A) of IT act that carries jail up to 7 years.
Twitter on Monday blocked access to accounts associated with the farmers’ protest to Indian users on the government’s demand.(Reuters)
Twitter on Monday blocked access to accounts associated with the farmers’ protest to Indian users on the government’s demand.(Reuters)
Updated on Feb 04, 2021 01:49 AM IST
Copy Link
ByDeeksha Bhardwaj, New Delhi

The ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY) has served notice on Twitter Inc. to again block over 250 accounts and posts to which the microblogging site restored access after blocking them briefly for using a false and controversial hashtag in connection with the ongoing farmers’ protest on the capital’s borders, officials said.

The notice states that Twitter, by unblocking the accounts and posts, was in violation of Section 69 (A) of the Information Technology Act that carries a maximum punishment of seven years’ imprisonment , officials familiar with the development said on condition of anonymity. The notice, the officials said, was sent Tuesday evening.

Twitter on Monday blocked access to accounts associated with the farmers’ protest to Indian users on the government’s demand.

The blocks, which only applied for viewers based in India, came after the Indian government hit Twitter with a legal demand. Many of the blocked accounts used the hashtag “ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide,” Following criticism of the move, Twitter unblocked them by late Monday.

“This is a clear violation of Indian law that Twitter is supposed to follow,” said one of the officials cited above.

Also read: Government fends off global clamour on farm stir

Among the handles temporarily withdrawn in India on Monday were those of Kisan Ekta Morcha, an affiliate of the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella group leading the ongoing farmers’ protest. Action was also taken again the Twitter accounts of media outlet Caravan, Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar (who was merely highlighting the hashtag to authorities) , activist Hansraj Meena, former Lok Sabha MP and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Mohammed Salim, and actor Sushant Singh.

MeitY, in the notice, a copy of which has been seen by Hindustan Time, said: “Having considered in totality, the contents of the interim order, the oral submissions of the advocate/representative of Twitter at the Committee meeting, and also the mail from Twitter expressing its disobedience of the legal blocking orders, the competent authority is satisfied that it is necessary and also expedient in the interest of public order and also for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to public order that Twitter, as an intermediary under section 2[1][w] of the act is once again directed to block for access by the public, the said Twitter handles and also the said hashtag with immediate effect (attached as Annexure-I).”

The committee meeting refers to an inter-ministerial panel’s sitting that allows a third party to seek a review of government directions.

Thousands of farmers have been camping on the borders of Delhi since November 26 to demand the repeal of three farm laws that cultivators say would potentially weaken their bargaining power, leave them and the mercy of big agribusinesses and lead to the dismantlement of a system of minimum support prices for foodgrains.

“You are aware of the prevailing situation, which not only has the potential, but has in fact, resulted into a major public order issue on 26.01.2021,” the MeitY notice said, referring to the violence that took place in Delhi during a tractors’ rally on Republic Day. “The statutory authorities are doing everything possible to ensure that no adverse public order situation takes place and no cognizable offences are committed.”

“In light of these developments and as apart of due process, and as per the settled practice, an order was passed under Rule 9 of the Information Technology [Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public] Rules, 2009,which have ensued in the exercise of powers under section 69A[2] of the Information and Technology Act, 2000.”.

Under Section69(A) {2}of the Information Technology Act, the government can suspend accounts that pose a threat to public order.

The notice also stated that Twitter has no “no constitutional, statutory or any legal basis whatsoever to comment upon the interplay of statutory provisions with constitutional principles or to unilaterally read down the scope of statutory provisions as per its own limited private understanding of the constitutional and statutory laws of India”.

“This a is motivated campaign to abuse, inflame and create tension in society on unsubstantiated grounds. Incitement to Genocide is Not Freedom of Speech; It is Threat to Law & Order,” the notice said.

The government added that it considered the submissions of Twitter but found that it is necessary to take down the accounts in public interest.

Twitter declined to comment on the issue. The accounts, however, were accessible until late Wednesday night.

Last week, the government wrote to the microblogging site to take down posts and accounts that ran the controversial hashtag. Twitter blocked the accounts but restored them and said that they constitute free speech and are newsworthy.

“The farmer’s protest has been going on for months but the government has not blocked a single account before now,” said a second official familiar with the matter. “If such a decision was taken, it would have factored in the consequences of running a hashtag that alludes to senior people in the government planning being involved in some sort of conspiracy.”

MeitY issued the directions to block the accounts under section 69 (A) of the Information Technology Act after the ministry of home affairs (MHA) stepped in, the people quoted above said. “The home ministry said that the tweets could lead to an adverse law and order situation. The accounts have been withheld to prevent an escalation of violence,” an official familiar with the matter said on Monday.

Raman Chima, Asia Pacific Director at Access Now, a digital rights organisation, said: “For initiating the imprisonment sentence, the government will have to take Twitter to court. Twitter can always challenge it by saying what is happening isn’t legal. This will open up a problematic can of worms because since 2005 governments have been cautious about not making tech company executives liable for content posted by users.”

He added: “The government has not provided the actual 69(A) order. It is perverse in the Indian republic to censure somebody without providing the actual document. The SC, on internet shutdowns, has said that you cannot deprive anybody of their rights online without making the order public. There is no legal mandate for confidentiality with the government other than the rules they have framed themselves. These are not constitutional.”

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close Story
SHARE
Story Saved
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Tuesday, January 25, 2022