Twitter has moved Karnataka High Court challenging the legality of certain takedown orders issued by the Central government. The plea in the high court comes weeks after the Information and Technology (IT) Ministry warned the social media platform of penal action if it did not comply with orders issued in January and March 2021 directing it to take down certain tweets.
According to news reports, Twitter has also accused the Indian government of abusing its power and said that some of the requests to block certain accounts fell short of the requirement as outlined in the IT Act. Failure to comply with the IT Rules can result in Twitter losing the "safe harbour immunity" it currently enjoys.
Twitter has argued that some government orders failed to give prior notice to authors of tweets that were sought to be blocked. Some orders sought to block political content posted by official handles of political parties, and blocking the same would amount to a violation of free speech, a Reuters report read.
However, it is not immediately clear which specific tweets have prompted Twitter to file its plea in the high court.
The flashpoint between the microblogging giant and the Centre began when the IT Ministry in January and March 2021 directed Twitter to take down accounts that used the #ModiPlanningFarmersGenocide in connection with the now-withdrawn farm laws, and those that were critical of the Central government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The January 31 government order also sought to block certain accounts like that of the news portal The Caravan, which did not even use the hashtag.
The Centre in February 2021 had also warned Twitter of criminal proceedings under section 69A of the IT Act if it failed to comply with its request. Section 69A allows the Indian government to direct an intermediary to block public access to any information to maintain peace and public order. Failure to comply with the request could attract a jail term upto seven years and a fine.
The feud intensified when Twitter failed to comply with the requirements of the Information and Technology Rules 2021, introduced by the government in February 2021. Cente issued the last warning after Twitter delayed in appointing a Chief Compliance Officer, Resident Grievance officer, nodal officer and a physical address in India in accordance with the IT Rules.
When the issue of non-compliance came before a constitutional court, the Delhi High Court refused to grant interim protection and said the government could take action against Twitter in accordance with the law.
The High Court even warned the social media platform of contempt when it appointed "interim" officers as opposed to permanent officials as mandated by law.
In August 2021, the IT Ministry told Lok Sabha that Twitter was violating principles of natural justice and was urged to be transparent and equitable in invoking its 'manipulated media' tag.
The Lok Sabha reply came after the Centre on May 21 had sent a strongly worded notice to Twitter asking it to drop the 'manipulated media' tag to "tweets made by Indian political leaders with reference to a toolkit created to undermine, derail and demean the efforts of the Government against the Covid-19 pandemic".
Earlier this year in April, the Centre issued emergency orders directing Twitter (along with Facebook and Instagram) to block at least 100 inflammatory posts and accounts.
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