Karnataka High Court dismisses Twitter plea challenging Central government orders to block tweets, accounts; imposes ₹50 lakh costs

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The Karnataka High Court on Friday dismissed the petition filed by Twitter challenging ten blocking orders issued by the Central government between February 2021 and 2022 directing the social media giant to take down 39 URLs. [X Corp v. Union of India]
Justice Krishna S Dixit also imposed a whopping ₹50 lakh costs on Twitter, saying that it did not give reasons for not complying with Central government’s demands for blocking in a timely manner.

The Court noted that Twitter is not a farmer or an ordinary person unfamiliar with the law, but a billionare company.

Referring to operative portions of the judgment, Justice Dixit today said that he is convinced by the Central government’s stance that it not only has the power to block tweets, but it can also block accounts.

The judge further revealed that dealt with around eight questions in the judgment, including whether reasons should be communicated to the user whose tweet is blocked and whether the blocking of tweets should be period-specific or if tweets can be blocked for an indefinite period of time.

The costs are to be paid within 45 days to the Karnataka State Legal Services Authority. The Court said that ₹5,000 would have to be paid for every day that the payment is delayed.

The Court had reserved its verdict in the matter on April 21 after hearing extensive arguments by both parties.

Twitter contended that the Central government was not empowered to issue general orders calling for the blocking of social media accounts and that the orders must contain reasons which should be communicated to users.

It also stated that a blocking order could only be issued in a situation where the nature of the content was in line with the grounds laid down under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act.

Additionally, if reasons were not recorded in such blocking orders, there would be a possibility of reasons being manufactured at a later stage, Twitter said.

Invocation of Article 226 of the Constitution (writ jurisdiction of High Courts) was also argued to be not limited to the violation of Constitutional rights and there was no bar on Twitter approaching the Court, the social media giant argued.

On the other hand, the Central government contended that Twitter cannot speak on behalf of its account holders and, therefore, it had no locus standi to file the petition.

Further, since Twitter is a foreign entity and the government’s ten blocking orders were not arbitrary, the company could not fall back on fundamental rights under Articles 14 (right to equality) and 19 (right to freedom of speech and expression) of the Indian Constitution to argue the matter.

In its petition filed before the High Court, Twitter contended that account-level blocking is a disproportionate measure and violates the rights of users under the Constitution.

Out of a total of 1,474 accounts and 175 tweets, Twitter challenged the blocking of only 39 URLs.

The petition stated that the orders in question are manifestly arbitrary, and procedurally and substantively not in consonance with Section 69A of the IT Act.

Further, they fail to comply with the procedures and safeguards prescribed by the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009 (Blocking Rules), it was submitted.

Twitter also argued that the direction to block entire accounts falls afoul of Section 69A of the IT Act.

The Central government submitted in its reply that the directions to block certain Twitter accounts were issued in national and public interest and to prevent incidents of lynching and mob violence.

The government emphasised that it is committed to providing an open, safe, trusted and accountable internet to its citizens, and that its powers to block information has a limited scope.

Senior Advocates Ashok Haranahalli, Arvind Datar and Advocate Manu Kulkarni represented Twitter while Additional Solicitor General of India R Sankaranarayanan appeared for the Central government.

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