The stand-off between Twitter and the Centre escalated when the microblogging platform on Tuesday moved Karnataka High Court challenging the legality of government orders that sought to block 39 tweets and accounts. The government wanted to entirely block 34 accounts with several of them belonging to identifiable public figures, twitter said in its plea filed on July 5.
"Account level blocking" is a "disproportionate measure" and violated the rights of the users under the constitution, Twitter said.
Between February 2021 – February 2022, the Centre wanted to block a total of 256 URLs, 1 hashtag, 1474 accounts and 175 tweets, Twitter told the high court. While it complied with the government's orders under protest, Twitter challenged the legality of the orders pertaining to 39 tweets and accounts since they were disproportionate, unconstitutional, and violated provisions of section 69A of the IT Act.
Section 69A of the IT Act allows the government to block public access to an intermediary (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc) in the public order interest.
The Blocking Orders failed to give prior notice to the account holders and failed to give proper reasons for withholding the account, the plea further read. Twitter added that to the best of its knowledge no notice or any opportunity at a hearing was given to users before their accounts were taken down.
Twitter said it was not seeking any relief since the Centre agreed to revoke blocking orders pertaining to 10 of 11 accounts on June 30. However, the Centre is firm on its intent to implement one blocking order, Twitter added.
The social media platform further submitted that the Centre has agreed to review its latest June 30 notice seeking to block a fresh list of 15 accounts and 12 URLs.
It is unclear which tweets or accounts Twitter is talking about since all details identifying the same have been submitted in court in a sealed cover.
BOOM accessted Twitter's plea in the high court and recounts submissions below.
Account-level blocking violates Constitutional rights
Twitter argued that the Centre's request to block accounts without giving any reasons, was not in consonance with the prevailing law. The content sought to be blocked failed to meet the narrowly tailored scope outlined in the IT Act, Twitter said.
Several of the URLs the Centre wanted to withhold contain political and journalistic content, Twitter said. Blocking such information is a gross violation of free speech, it added.
Twitter said section 69A did not envision blocking accounts altogether. Certain tweets posted by users could be blocked if it violated the law, the social media platform said. Moreover, the request to block tweets and accounts was disproportionate since the Centre did not specify for how long it wanted to block the tweets/accounts.
The suspension of the accounts/tweets would take on a permanent character since the blocking orders did not specify any time limit nor it provided any review mechanism.
Off late, the Centre was issuing an increasing number of blocking orders that are not backed by any reason, Twitter added.
Blocking orders are manifestly arbitrary, and procedurally and substantially not in consonance with section 69A of the IT Act. The blocking orders fail to comply with the procedures and safeguards prescribed by the 2009 blocking rules under the act, the plea read.
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