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Government’s Content Takedown Orders Are ‘Manifestly Arbitrary’, Twitter Says in Court Petition

Twitter has also submitted that ‘account level Blocking Orders are in violation of Section 69A of the IT Act.

Government’s Content Takedown Orders Are ‘Manifestly Arbitrary’, Twitter Says in Court Petition

Photo Credit: Reuters

Twitter said that the ministry has recently ordered to take down 1,474 accounts

Highlights
  • Twitter said that ministry has recently ordered to take down 175 tweets
  • The petitioner responded that it has complied with the Blocking Orders
  • Ministry has directed to block access to certain information

Social media giant Twitter, while challenging multiple blocking orders issued by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, contended that the orders are manifestly arbitrary and procedurally and substantially not in consonance with Section 69A of the IT Act.

In a petition filed before the Karnataka High Court, Twitter said in these blocking orders, the IT Ministry has directed Twitter to block access by the public, to certain information which includes suspension of multiple accounts on Twitter.

Twitter said that the ministry has recently ordered to take down 1,474 accounts, and 175 tweets.

The plea states that the ministry orders have not shown that these accounts contain content at least a majority of which falls within the narrowly tailored grounds of Section 69A.

"The Blocking Orders do not provide proper reasons as to how such content falls within the narrowly tailored grounds set out in Section 69A of the IT Act. The procedural safeguards under the Blocking Rules have also not been followed in the present case," Twitter said.

The plea further stated that the respondent ministry issued a letter dated June 27, 2022, directing the petitioner to comply, failing which respondents prescribe serious consequences against Petitioner (Twitter) i.e. withdrawal of the protection under Section 79(1) of the IT Act, as well as initiation of criminal proceedings under the provisions of the IT Act.

The petitioner responded that it has complied with the Blocking Orders under protest but objected to blocking directions in respect of 11 accounts. In response, on July 1, 2022, respondents issued a letter revoking their direction to block 10 Twitter accounts, said the Twitter petition.

The plea mentioned that, in 34 cases, the Blocking Orders seek that the petitioner block entire accounts. Section 69A provides the power to block 'information' and 'information' is defined in Section 2(1)(v) of the IT Act. The remit of Section 69A extends only to blocking 'information' that is already available and does not extend to preventing information from being generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted. Therefore, the account level Blocking Orders are in violation of Section 69A.

Without prejudice, Blocking Orders to withhold access to the entire account cannot be issued without providing cogent reasons as to why such account level blocking is necessary or expedient, Twitter submits that account level blocking is a disproportionate measure and violates the rights of users under the constitution, said Twitter in the petition.


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