Tweetstorm | Re-block accounts or face action: Govt

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February 04, 2021 4:40 AM

Following the January 31 direction, Twitter had on February 1 blocked around 250 URLs/accounts/tweets using hashtag “ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide.

TwitterTwitter defended itself before a government committee

The government on Wednesday warned microblogging platform Twitter with loss of immunity and penal action of up to seven years of imprisonment and a fine if it failed to suspend hashtags/accounts/tweets for which directions had been issued on January 31 under the provisions of Section 69A of the Information Technology Act.

In a strongly worded notice, the ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY) made it clear to Twitter, it was an intermediary and bound by the laws which govern such platforms and, therefore, could not adjudicate on its own.

Following the January 31 direction, Twitter had on February 1 blocked around 250 URLs/accounts/tweets using hashtag “ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide.

However, the handles were blocked only for a few minutes and Twitter restored them, ostensibly because, as per its content policy, the accounts and contents constituted free speech. MeitY has objected to this interpretation citing Section 69A of the IT Act, saying Twitter cannot assume the role of court and justify non-compliance.

“Before clarifying the understanding of the Central government on the meaning and scope of “public order” and the design and intent of Section 69A of the Act, it is necessary to point out that Twitter has no constitutional, statutory or any legal basis whatsoever to comment upon the interplay of statutory provisions with constitutional principles or to unilaterally read down the scope of statutory provisions as per its own limited private understanding of the constitutional and statutory laws of India,” MeitY said in its notice.

Twitter defended itself before a government committee but its defence, that the offending accounts/tweets/hashtag were not inflammatory as per several rulings of the Supreme Court, was not accepted. As such, by unblocking the handles,Twitter had violated the law.

“Please note that under the scheme section 69A and the rule as applicable, only the subjective satisfaction of the secretary, MeitY and the committee is relevant and the satisfaction/judgment of the intermediary itself has no relevance. Further, there is no onus of proof on MeitY and Twitter being an intermediary cannot assume the role of a Court in contravention of the statutory rules as applicable,” the notice read.

Under Section 69A of the IT Act, the government has the power to block any content if it is satisfied the content is against the country’s sovereignty, integrity, and defence and, in such cases, the law does not require it to submit any proof to the offending party. More than 200 Chinese apps have been banned under this Section.

Sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram are categorised as intermediaries or platforms that do not own content but put across third party content. As a result intermediaries enjoy certain exemptions from liabilities with regard to content, data, and communication. If anything unlawful is noticed on such platforms, MeitY directs the concerned intermediary to remove the unlawful content within a specified period of time failing which penal action follows.

“It may be noted that as per the relevant provisions of Indian law, the intermediary is bound to comply with the order of the designated officer authorised by the Central government, and in case of non-compliance, statutory consequences shall follow. It may be noted that the said statutory provisions are a manifestation of settled global jurisprudence developing around the secondary liability of intermediaries in such situations,” MeitY wrote.

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