Microblogging platform Twitter has challenged content moderation by the government on the grounds that the blocking orders are unconstitutional, violate principles of online speech and intermediary liability established by the Supreme Court in the Shreya Singhal case and do not satisfy the requirements needed to invoke Section 69A of the Information Technology (IT) Act.
A copy of Twitter’s petition (dated July 5) in the Karnataka High Court, exclusively accessed by BusinessLine, lists the grounds for quashing of all the blocking orders, especially underlining those that ask for entire accounts to be blocked.
Originator not notified
The microblogging site has argued that while issuing orders for blocking individual accounts, the government has not satisfied the basic principle established in the Shreya Singhal case as also in Rule 8 of the Blocking Rules, that state the originator of the content be notified before such action is taken. While the blocking orders given by the respondents — Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and the Designated Officer, MeitY — are manifestly arbitrary, they fail to give the originators prior notice and are disproportionate, Twitter argued.
“In very few cases, such as the Emergency Blocking Order dated February 2, 2021, issued under Rule 9, some reasons have been provided. However, these do not pass muster of the requirement under Section 69A … on this ground alone, the blocking orders ought to be set aside,” the petition prayed.
The California-headquartered company said the remit of Section 69A extends only to blocking ‘information’ that is already available and does not extend to preventing information from generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted. The effect of the respondents’ order to block accounts as a whole amounts to preventing users from generating and transmitting information is violative of Section 69A.
Danger to public order
“Perusal of the content available in the accounts of politicians, activists and journalists would show that respondents have not shown how the content disrupts public order, as contemplated under Section 69A. Thus, there is no imminent danger to public order, it mentioned,” said the petition.
Twitter further said the government has directed account level blocking of certain users amounting to a total number of 39, even when it is not the least intrusive means available. No justification has been provided for how such account level blocking is the least intrusive means in a particular case. “On this ground also, the blocking orders must be quashed,” said the petition.
Twitter said the Supreme Court, in Shreya Singhal case, had held: “… It is also clear from an examination of Rule 8 that it is not merely the intermediary who may be heard. If the “person”, that is the originator, is identified, he is also to be heard before a blocking order is passed. Above all, it is only after these procedural safeguards are met that blocking orders are made and in case there is a certified copy of a court order, only then can such blocking order also be made.”
In the present case, several of the originators are “identifiable public figures”. However, to the best of the company’s knowledge, neither has any notice been provided to the user nor any opportunity of hearing granted, it said.
July 08, 2022