Twitter takes legal action against government order

Twitter India filed a lawsuit in Karnataka High Court on Tuesday challenging certain notices and content withdrawal orders released by the Union government, people with direct knowledge of the development told ET.

The legal move follows the July 4 deadline to require the U.S. microblogging platform to comply with guidelines issued by the Department of Electronics and Information Technology.MeitY).

The social mediator went to court as it found several blocking orders issued by the information technology ministry to be “excessive and arbitrary, failing to notify content creators” and were “disproportionate in some cases,” according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

They declined to give the exact content of the writ filed in the high court as the case is currently pending.

“The several blocking orders that have been issued only ‘cite’ Section 69A (Information Technology (IT) Act 2000) grounds, but do not demonstrate how the content falls within those grounds or how said content violates Section 69A,” said one of the people mentioned above.

In an exclusive June 29 report from ET, the Department of Information Technology issued a notice to Twitter giving it a “last chance” to comply with all notices and takedown orders issued under the provisions of the law. IT Law or risk losing your intermediate statusand thus the protection afforded under section 79 of the Information Technology Act.

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MeitY and Twitter did not respond to requests for confirmation of the latest developments.

Meanwhile, people familiar with the matter said that Twitter claims that on several occasions, content marked by MeitY for deletion is posted by political party officials. “Blocking such information would be a violation of the freedom of speech guaranteed to users of the platform,” the source said.

In addition, the microblogging platform is of the opinion that in some of the blocking orders, the Ministry of IT used its powers “disproportionately” and did not state the exact reasons why it considered the content to be in violation of Article 69 of the IT Law. ’ said one person, who declined to give his name.

Compliance with the requirements

Meanwhile, in a post on the microblogging platform on Tuesday evening, Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology Rajiv Chandrasekhar wrote, “In India, everyone, including foreign Internet intermediaries/platforms, is eligible for judicial review. But equally, ALL intermediaries/platforms operating here have an unequivocal obligation to abide by our laws and regulations.”

In its Twitter notice sent on June 27, the Ministry of Information Technology indicated that despite notifications of non-compliance delivered on June 6 and 9, the social media intermediary has not responded, and therefore the Ministry is taking action as provided under the relevant section Information Technology Act 2000.

Knowledgeable officials then told ET that the notices were sent to Twitter after the intermediary “repeatedly failed to act on takedown notices sent pursuant to Section 69A of the Information Technology Act” as well as “notices of non-compliance, released for non-removal of content”.

Legal experts believe that section 69 of the Information Technology Act was used by the government “often in violation of the provisions of the section, which mention limited grounds for blocking access to any information.”

“Often, users whose content is being removed are also not informed, and this, in essence, goes against the high court’s reasoning for section and rules in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India,” said Prasant Sugathan, legal director of the Center for the Right to Software Freedom. (SFLC.in), referring to the 2015 two-judge panel decision on online speeches and intermediary liability in India.

Big Tech Regulatory Violations

The Information Technology Ministry’s June 27 warning follows a series of skirmishes between the American microblogging platform and Indian regulators in recent years.

In May 2021, when the IT Rules 2021 went into effect, MeitY issued a similar warning about the possibility of Twitter losing its interim status due to non-compliance with the IT Law rules. It also directed the company to appoint a local complaints officer, a permanent chief compliance officer, and a point of contact or risk losing the protection afforded to it under section 79 of the Information Technology Act.

People familiar with the thinking within the social media company noted that the Information Technology Ministry itself said that “deleting user accounts should be a last resort, and that platforms should take proportionate action by simply deleting content or information only if if said content is illegal or unlawful.”

“Any account-level ban is a very disproportionate measure,” said one of the sources cited above.

Twitter’s legal action on Tuesday will add to the list of petitions filed by social media intermediaries against one or more provisions of the Information Technology Regulations 2021 or the IT Act 2000.

On May 25 last year, instant messaging platform WhatsApp filed a case in the Delhi High Court to challenge a provision in IT regulations to track the sender of its messages. In a statement, WhatsApp said that since it would require breaking “end-to-end” encryption on its platform, it would ultimately violate users’ basic right to privacy.

In another case last year, the then head of Twitter in India, Manish Maheshwari, went to the Karnataka High Court in an attempt to overturn a subpoena issued to him by the Uttar Pradesh state police. The court then ruled in favor of Maheshwari and asked the police to interrogate him virtually if necessary.