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Twitter Challenges Govt Order Blocking 39 URLs, Says Account Blocking Violates User Rights

According to a Bar & Bench report, Twitter has argued before Karnataka HC that account-level blocking is a disproportionate measure and violates the rights of users under the Constitution.
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Twitter has moved the Karnataka High Court challenging blocking orders for 39 URLs that were issued by the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY).

Ten blocking orders were issued between February 2021 and February 2022, directing Twitter to block certain information from public access and suspend several accounts. The orders asked the social media platform to block a total of 1,474 accounts and 175 tweets, out of which Twitter has challenged the blocking of only 39 URLs.

According to Bar & Benchwhich has accessed the petition filed by the social media giant, Twitter has argued that account-level blocking is a disproportionate measure and violates the rights of users under the Constitution.

Earlier, news agency PTI reported that Twitted has termed the blocking orders "overbroad and arbitrary" and argued that they failed to provide notice to the originators of the content and were disproportionate in several cases.

The blocking orders issued by MEITY have been submitted to the High Court via sealed covers marked as annexures A to K, Bar & Bench reported.

As per the report, on June 4 and 6 this year, the Designated Officer of the MEITY  sent show cause notices to Twitter asking it to explain why action should not be taken against it. Twitter's Compliance Officer stated before the Designated Officer that the content and accounts, which are ordered to be blocked and on which action was not taken, did not fall under the grounds provided under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act (IT Act). Hence, the social media giant urged MEITY to reconsider and withdraw the notices. 

Under Section 69A of the IT Act, the centre or its authorised officer can seek to block access to information in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence.

Thereafter, MEITY sent another notice  June 27 warning Twitter that significant consequences under the IT Act would prevail, including the loss of its intermediary protections under Section 79 of the Act, if the content was not blocked. However, when the social media platform reiterated that it was not in violation of the IT Act, the Designated Officer called for a meeting with its Compliance Officer. During this meeting, MEITY agreed to withdraw the order calling for the blocking of 10 account-level URLs. It also sent an updated list of 27 URLs to be blocked by Twitter. 

On July 4, MEITY sent a letter to Twitter saying that it was reconsidering the June 27 notice and would confirm the next course of action shortly. 

Meanwhile, Twitter moved the Karnataka High Court challenging the blocking orders. 

The petition also states that the orders in question are manifestly arbitrary, and procedurally and substantively not in consonance with Section 69A of the IT Act. Further, they fail to comply with the procedures and safeguards prescribed by the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009 (Blocking Rules). 

Twitter has argued that the direction to block entire accounts is not in consonance with Section 69A. The ambit of 'information' that may be blocked under this provision of the IT Act extends only to blocking information that is available and does not apply to preventing generation, transmission, or reception of information, the plea reportedly said. 

"...Blocking Orders to withhold access to the entire account cannot be issued without providing cogent reasons as to why such account level blocking in necessary or expedient...account level blocking is a disproportionate measure and violates rights of users under the Constitution,” it said, according to the Bar&Bench. 

Further, Twitter has stated that the blocking orders do not provide proper reasons as to why the content should be blocked on the narrow grounds under Section 69A. Procedural safeguards under the Blocking Rules have not been followed in these cases as well, Twitter contended. 

Based on these arguments and others, Twitter has appealed that the ten blocking orders be quashed. Alternatively, it has prayed that the orders should be modified to withdraw the account-level directions while specifying tweets which are violative of Section 69A of the IT Act.

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