Twitter Inc.’s appeal against barring orders for specific accounts issued by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology was denied by a single judge on the Karnataka High Court. Twitter Inc. was also given an Rs. 50 lakh fine by Justice Krishna Dixit, who claimed the social media corporation had approached the court defying government directives.
As a foreign corporation, Twitter’s locus standi had been called into doubt by the government, which said they were ineligible to apply Articles 19 and 21 to their situation. Additionally, the government claimed that because Twitter was only designed to serve as an intermediary, there was no “jural relationship” between Twitter and its users.
In accordance with Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, the Ministry issued the directives. Nevertheless, Twitter had argued in its appeal that the orders “fall foul of Section 69A both substantially and procedurally.” Twitter argued that in accordance with 69A, account holders were to be notified before having their tweets and accounts deleted. However, the Ministry failed to provide these account holders with any notices.
On June 4, 2022, and again on June 6, 2022, the government sent letters to Twitter’s compliance officer requesting that they come before them and provide an explanation for why the Blocking Orders were not followed and why no action should be taken against them.
Twitter replied on June 9 that the content against which it had not followed the blocking orders does not seem to be a violation of Section 69A. On June 27, 2022, the Government issued another notice stating Twitter was violating its directions. On June 29, Twitter replied, asking the Government to reconsider the direction on the basis of the doctrine of proportionality. On June 30, 2022, the Government withdrew blocking orders on ten account-level URLs but gave an additional list of 27 URLs to be blocked. On July 10, more accounts were blocked. Compiling the orders “under protest,” Twitter approached the HC with the petition challenging the orders.
Additionally, the government claimed that because Twitter was only designed to serve as an intermediary, there was no “jural relationship” between Twitter and its users.
Government attorney Additional Solicitor General R Sankaranarayanan argued that tweets mentioning “Indian Occupied Kashmir” and the survival of LTTE commander Velupillai Prabhakaran were serious enough to undermine the integrity of the nation.
Twitter, on the other hand, claimed that its users have pushed for these rights. Additionally, Twitter maintained that under Article 14 of the Constitution, even as a foreign company, they were entitled to certain rights, such as the right to equality. They also argued that the reason for the account blocking in each case was not stated and that Section 69a’s provision for blocking a URL should only apply to the offending URL rather than the entire account because blocking the entire account would prevent the creation of information while blocking the offending tweet only applied to already-created information.
The evolution of cyberspace has been substantiated by big tech companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon and many more. These companies have been instrumental in leading the spectrum of emerging technologies and creating a blanket of ease and accessibility for users. Compliance with laws and policies is of utmost priority for the government, and the new bills and policies are empowering the Indian cyberspace. Non Compliance will be taken very seriously, and the same is legalised under the Intermediary Guidelines 2021 and 2022 by Meity. Referring to Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, which pertains to an exemption from liability of intermediary in some instances, it was said, “Intermediary is bound to obey the orders which the designate authority/agency which the government fixes from time to time.”
Authors: Mr. Abhishek Singh, Lead – Policy and Advocacy, CyberPeace