Twitter has requested the Karnataka High Court to reverse a few orders from the Centre to block content, arguing that the orders are arbitrary and show “disproportionate use of power”, according to sources familiar with the filings.
This is the latest in the ongoing confrontation between the government and the American social media giant over content restrictions and compliance.
Two Union Ministers reacted to Twitter’s move and said it was important to hold social media accountable.
“Social media accountability has become a valid question globally. It’s important to hold it accountable, which will first start with self-regulation, then industry regulation, followed by govt regulation,” said IT Minister Ashwini Vaishaw.
Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the junior IT minister, said: “All including foreign Internet intermediaries or platforms have the right to court and a judicial review. But equally ALL intermediary/platforms operating here, have unambiguous obligation to comply with our laws n rules.”
According to sources, Twitter’s case is that multiple accounts and content included in the blocking orders are:
Overbroad and arbitrary
Fail to provide notice to the content originators
Are disproportionate in several cases
“Several could pertain to political content that is posted by official handles of political parties,” say sources close to the filing, adding that blocking of such information is a violation of users’ freedom of speech.
Twitter’s case it that it is “committed to the principles of openness, transparency”.
According to sources close to the filing, Twitter’s grounds for suing the government are:
1.Many Blocking Orders are “procedurally and substantively deficient” under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, which allows the government to restrict access for the sake of the sovereignty and integrity of India, defence, security, friendly relations with other nations or public order.
One of the gaps is to not give notice to users.
2. The threshold of blocking under Section 69A is not met . As the nature of some of the content could be merely political speech, criticism and newsworthy content, these blocking orders do not pass the test of the grounds provided under Section 69A.
3. Disproportionate use of power
Account-level blocking is a principally disproportionate measure and violates rights of users under the constitution, Twitter says. This is especially when the reasons to block URLs and reasons to block an account lack specificity and merely cite grounds under Section 69A.
Twitter argues that even the Ministry of Electronics and IT has said taking down the whole user account should be a last resort.
“Twitter has sought judicial review of some of the content that forms a part of various Blocking Orders on the above mentioned grounds and requested relief from the Court to set aside these Blocking Orders,” the company says.