Between February 2021 and 2022, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) is learnt to have issued 10 blocking orders to Twitter, directing the company to take down over 1,400 accounts and 175 tweets under Section 69 (A) of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Twitter has moved the Karnataka High Court, seeking to quash blocking orders for 39 of those links flagged by the Ministry, according to the petition filed by the social media giant.
Twitter has told the court that “increasingly” the Ministry has been issuing orders to block entire accounts without informing the company the specific tweets made by these accounts that call for their blocking, as per the petition, which The Indian Express has reviewed. “Several of the URLs contain political and journalistic content. Blocking of such information is a gross violation of the freedom of speech guaranteed to citizen-users of the platform,” the company said.
The company has also claimed that the Ministry has, in many cases, not provided “proper reasons” for issuing the blocking orders, a requirement under Section 69(A).
Twitter has received blocking orders from the Ministry to block 1,474 accounts and 175 tweets. In its petition, the company has sought that the specific blocking orders be set aside by the court as they “fall foul” of the “narrowly tailored” grounds of Section 69 (A) of the IT Act. While calling some of the blocking orders “unconstitutional”, the company has said: “The blocking orders are challenged on the basis that they are procedurally and substantially non-compliant with Section 69A, are manifestly arbitrary, fail to provide the originators prior notice and are disproportionate in several cases”.
“The blocking orders fall foul of Section 69A both substantively and procedurally and ought to be quashed,” Twitter’s petition mentions. It has further suggested that the Ministry modify the challenged blocking orders to identify specific tweets that are violative of Section 69A and revoke the account suspensions.
It is learnt that the specific details about the accounts and tweets that were ordered by the Ministry to be taken down have been submitted to the court by Twitter in a sealed envelope, since Section 69 (A) orders are supposed to be kept confidential. The company also said after it received non-compliance notices by the Ministry in June, it responded to the notices and “complied under protest”.
Last month, the MeitY had given the company “one last opportunity” to comply with its blocking orders issued under Section 69 (A) or risk losing its immunity as an intermediary, which shields it from legal action against content posted by users on its platform.
The IT Ministry and Twitter did not respond to an immediate request for comment.
Section 69 (A) of the IT Act, 2000, allows the Centre to issue blocking orders to social media intermediaries “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence relating to above”. As per rules that govern these blocking orders, any request made for blocking by the government is further sent to a review committee, which then issues final directions.
The petition also reveals the constant back and forth that happened between the Ministry and Twitter over blocking orders issued between February 2021 and February 2022.
This includes the IT Ministry sending at least 10 separate blocking orders to the company, directing it to take down over a thousand accounts in the specified timeframe, the company writing to the Ministry asking it to reconsider some of its orders, Twitter’s compliance officer being summoned by the IT Ministry at least two times in a span of two days, and the Ministry revoking a blocking order it had earlier issued to the company.