BENGALURU: The Karnataka high court on Tuesday issued notice to the Centre on a petition filed by Twitter, challenging a series of orders from the Union ministry of electronics and information technology to block certain accounts or take down content.
Twitter suggested that the court hold an in-camera hearing to protect the confidentiality of users of the platform. Justice Krishna S Dixit said this would be considered and posted the matter for August 25.
The microblogging platform termed many of the orders received between February 2, 2021 and February 28 this year “arbitrary” and “unconstitutional”. It claimed the ministry failed to provide valid reasons for its orders in keeping with Section 69A of the IT Act.
Business will be at risk if gag orders continue: Twitter
Twitter’s petition in the Karnataka high court said a letter received on February 2 last year asked for 256 URLs and one hashtag to be blocked. Till date, the ministry has sought suspension of 1,474 accounts and removal of 175 tweets. Twitter has challenged orders pertaining to 39 URLs.
Counsel Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Twitter, said the ministry wanted thousands of individual accounts blocked without assigning any reason or giving prior intimation to the owners of those handles, as stipulated in the rule book. He said if the trend continued, Twitter’s business would be at risk.
In a letter dated June 27, the authorities warned Twitter of serious consequences, including withdrawal of protection under Section 79(1) of the Information Technology Act and initiation of criminal proceedings if the orders weren’t complied with, the petition states. Twitter complied with most of these orders “under protest”, but rejected instructions to suspend 11 accounts. The authorities then issued a fresh letter on July 1, revoking the order to block 10 accounts.
Twitter sought a directive to the ministry to modify the orders to the extent of revoking account-level directions and instead identify specific tweets that are allegedly violative of Section 69A of the IT Act. Senior advocate Ashok Haranahalli, also representing Twitter, said the platform had complied with some of the Centre’s directives, details of which were submitted to the court in a sealed envelope.