Twitter moves Karnataka HC against legality of content takedown orders

Updated on Jul 05, 2022 05:33 PM IST

The company has argued that the blocking orders are procedurally and substantially deficient and demonstrate excessive use of powers

The Twitter logo. (REUTERS)
The Twitter logo. (REUTERS)
ByDeeksha Bhardwaj

Twitter has moved the Karnataka high court against the legality of the government’s content takedown orders. The move, which news agency Reuters first reported, comes after the Union electronics and information technology ministry warned it of penal action in case the tweets asked to be taken down last year in January and April were not blocked.

“In June, MeitY [Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology] sent Twitter a letter detailing serious consequences of non-compliance, including, but not limited to, criminal proceedings against Twitter’s Chief Compliance Officer, and granted it last opportunity to comply with a series of blocking orders...issued under Section 69A of the Information Technology (IT) Act...”, a person familiar with the matter said.

“Failing to do so would cause Twitter to lose its safe harbour immunity as available to it under Section 79 (1) of the IT Act. Due to the seriousness of these threats, Twitter has chosen to challenge the blocking orders under Section 69A through the legal mechanism of a writ petition before the high court of Karnataka.”

The company has argued that the orders are procedurally and substantially deficient of the Section 69A requirements and that they demonstrate excessive use of powers and are disproportionate. It argued that in several cases, there are demands for entire accounts to be blocked.

Section 69A allows the government to take action against posts and accounts, which may pose a threat to public order or the interest of sovereignty and integrity, defence of India, security of the state, and friendly relations with foreign states. The order to block a post/account is passed by a designated officer appointed by the Centre, who chairs an inter-ministerial committee comprising officials from the ministries of law and justice, home, information and broadcasting and the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team.

In its plea, Twitter has argued blocking orders are arbitrary and fail to provide notices to the originators of the content and are disproportionate in several cases. “Similarly, several could pertain to political content that is posted by official handles of political parties. Blocking of such information is a violation of the freedom of speech guaranteed to citizen users of the platform. Further, the content at issue does not have any apparent proximate relationship to the grounds under Section 69A...” Twitter said it is committed to the principles of openness and transparency.

There have been several instances of confrontation between the Twitter and the government particularly over content takedown orders. The government sent Twitter two non-compliance notices for failing to take action against accounts in 2021 related to farmers agitation and the Covid-19 pandemic. The notices said that penal action would be taken against officials of the company in case it refused to comply.

Twitter raised concerns and flagged potential threats to the safety of its employees after a visit by the Delhi Police in February. In January, the government asked social media companies to remove access to content regarding the farmers agitation that carried a controversial hashtag regarding the prime minister, saying it was a threat to public order. Twitter withheld access to the posts but it refused to take action against content by activists and journalists saying that it violated the tenets of free speech.

In April, the Centre issued emergency blocking orders to takedown over 100 “inflammatory” posts and accounts across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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