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Challenging Centre’s orders to block several accounts on its social media site, Social media giant Twitter, on Friday, told Karnataka HC that Centre’s move is “disproportionate.”
“Blocking orders are manifestly arbitrary, and procedurally and substantially not in consonance with Section 69A of the IT Act,” Twitter Inc has submitted before the Karnataka High Court.
While calling the Government’s action ‘disproportionate’, the petition has further contended that the blocking orders fail to comply with the procedures and safeguards prescribed by the Information Technology (Procedures and Safeguards for Blocking of Access to Information by Public) Rules, 2009.
Twitter has submitted that orders issued by the government directed it to block 1474 accounts and 175 tweets, out of which only 39 URL’s are being challenged by them through the present petition.
Along with quashing of several blocking orders, Twitter has sought directions to the government to modify the blocking orders to revoke the account-level directions, and instead identify specific tweets which are violative of Section 69A of the IT Act with reasons.
According to Twitter, the present petition was filed after it was served with a letter by the Centre through Ministry of Electronic & Information Technology setting out serious consequences of non-compliance, including initiation of criminal action.
Twitter’s petition has stated that the blocking orders deserve to be set aside for non- compliance with the requirements under Rule 8(1) of the blocking rules which mandates hearing the originator of content prior to passing of a blocking order.
According to twitter, in the present case where several of the originators are identifiable public figures, no notice has been provided to the user, nor any opportunity of hearing has been granted thereby making the Blocking Orders unsustainable.
Procedural non-compliance with Section 69A
The petitioner has argued that in respect of the content of the tweets, the government has failed to follow the procedure under Section 69A in respect of certain information.
Section 69A requires that the passing of the order should be necessary and expedient and reasons for passing such an order must be stated in writing.
However, in the present case proper reasons for passing the Blocking Orders have not been provided in most cases save and except for a reproduction of the grounds stated in Section 69A.
It has been pointed out that even though some reasons have been provided in very few cases, these do not pass muster of the requirement under Section 69A, and the orders should therefore be set aside
Section 69A does not authorise government to create new grounds for blocking orders
Twitter has in its petition stated that while Section 69A authorizes the Respondents to prescribe procedures and safeguards subject to which blocking orders may be carried out, it does not authorize them to create new grounds for blocking orders that go beyond its scope.
Further, the very language “procedures and safeguards” indicates the Parliament’s intent to require the government to act in a manner to prevent the misuse of the blocking power, rather than expanding such powers.
Blocking orders are unconstitutional
Twitter has cited Supreme Court’s order in the Shreya Singhal to state that constitutional validity of Section 69A was upheld on the basis of the procedures and safeguards contemplated in the section and failure to follow these procedures would therefore render the blocking orders to be unconstitutional.
Government’s actions are disproportionate
Calling the government’s action to block accounts disproportionate, Twitter has submitted that the power under Section 69A extends to block ‘information’ and not to block entire accounts.
Therefore the scope of Section 69A extends only to blocking ‘information’ that is already available and does not extend to preventing information from being generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted.
However, the effect of orders to block accounts as a whole amounts to preventing users from generating and transmitting information and is violative of Section 69A.
The Blocking Orders fail to use the least intrusive means
Twitter has sought quashing of the blocking orders on ground that account level blocking of 39 users is not the ‘least intrusive means’ available in terms of the test recognised by Supreme Court.
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