Central Govt to Karnataka High Court: Twitter Cannot Oppose Blocking of Accounts The Central Government strenuously opposed the petition moved by Twitter Inc. challenging the blocking order passed by the Government of India. The social media platform had preferred a petition after the electronics and IT ministry, through a notice on 26th June, 2022, warned it of penal action against its...
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Central Govt to Karnataka High Court: Twitter Cannot Oppose Blocking of Accounts
The Central Government strenuously opposed the petition moved by Twitter Inc. challenging the blocking order passed by the Government of India.
The social media platform had preferred a petition after the electronics and IT ministry, through a notice on 26th June, 2022, warned it of penal action against its chief compliance officer, and granted it a final opportunity to comply with a series of blocking orders issued in 2021.
The company argued that the orders were procedurally deficient of Section 69A requirements, demonstrating excessive and disproportionate use of powers. Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, empowers the government to issue directions to block public access of any information through any computer resource.
The Centre said that the company could only approach the court claiming violation of rights under Article 14 if the government has acted arbitrarily. Article 14 of the Constitution guarantees equality before law.
Arguing against a petition filed by Twitter against the blocking of 39 accounts, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) R Sankarnarayan, representing the electronics and IT Ministry, said the tech firm cannot raise contentions on the blocking of any account since it does not have any such legal or fundamental right under the Constitution as it is a foreign entity.
He stated, "the petitioner being a foreign company cannot avail any remedy of fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19 (1) and Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The petitioner company does not have a legal mandate to espouse the cause of twitter users/account holders. For espousing there should be statutory enablement like the Industrial Disputes Act, Trade Unions Act, wherein the cause of workmen becomes legally espousable by others and more particularly trade unions."
He further asserted that in absence of such a statutory enablement, the question of espousal will stand miles away. Moreover, such a mandate can arise only if there is a jural relationship between the account holders and petitioner company and not otherwise.
Justice Krishna S Dixit while hearing the matter inquired to the ASG that, whether applying Article 14 standards does jurisprudence differentiate between Indian and foreign companies?
To this the ASG replied, "let us suppose I say all accounts of twitter are closed and I permit other platforms to do the same business. Then he (twitter) can come and complain that you are not affording an opportunity to do business, you have given permission and now you have blocked all my users therefore you have treated one person one way and the other person the other way. In this particular case twitter is not being differently."
"Containing people who have posted content which is injurious to the security of nation or public order, the persons who are actually aggrieved are not them," he further added.
Twitter in its submission had stated that, "If the content is not falling within the prohibition under Section 69(A), it cannot be blocked. Such blocking orders not only affect the rights of the primary user but also the intermediary, Thus, intermediaries are entitled to challenge the authority's blocking orders."
The government cited that news items appearing in the newspaper is as per the discretion of the Newspaper. However, on an intermediary like this anyone can put up a post and there is no discretion.
Further reference was placed on Section 79 of the Information Technology Act which pertains to exemption from liability of intermediary in certain cases, it was contended "intermediary is bound to obey the orders which the designate authority/agency which the government fixes from time to time."
Sankarnarayan said Twitter was not the aggrieved entity in this case. A Twitter account holder is not carrying out business by writing a post nor canvassing for business, and he is only expressing his views, Sankarnarayan said, adding that an intermediary should distance itself from the account holder if there is an act of omission or commission.