“Platforms like Twitter can’t decide what free speech is” – Center defends blocking orders at HC


New Delhi: Twitter’s petition challenging the action against multiple handles is untenable, the central government at Karnataka HC said on Thursday. Declaring Twitter’s content management policies “a failure”, the Center said the microblogging site “does not take effective measures to prevent the spread of false news or deliberate misinformation”.

The government, calling Twitter a “usually non-compliant” platform, reiterated that the Information Technology Act 2000 is the law of the land, adding that “foreign platforms providing services in the country shall not be permitted to claim that Indian laws and Rules are not applicable to them”.

“It is not for the middle platform to define what is free speech and what is not,” the government told the court in response to a petition filed by Twitter against 10 orders made by the Center last year.

In its petition, Twitter called the orders — aimed at blocking 39 handles — “arbitrary, excessive and disproportionate”, arguing that most of these orders were not supported by reasons.

Twitter had also argued that the orders did not comply with Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, which authorizes the Center to issue directions to block access to any online information.

According to the law, such measures can only be taken “in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the defense of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or to prevent incitement to commit any recognizable offence”. ”.

Disputing the San Francisco-based company’s claims, the central government said Twitter only complied with blocking orders “after reminders and show cause notices”.

The government also alleged that this delay on Twitter’s part was intentional, saying the company “deliberately caused an inordinate delay” in following the instructions (in some cases, over a year).

This, the Center said, was done to “ensure blocking directions lose their [sic] the value and content of Section 69A is becoming more viral and also spreading to other platforms, leading to an increase in threat to sovereignty and integrity, national security and public order issues , ultimately leading to risks for the citizens and the country.

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“Platforms used by anti-Indian elements”

In a detailed Statement of Objections filed in the High Court, the central government acknowledged that Twitter was attempting, albeit indirectly, to uphold the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed to its users in India under the 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

Twitter is a “foreign company, which only pursues a commercial activity for profit”, the Center said, adding that the company has no right to allege violation of the fundamental rights of its users.

Explaining the blocking orders, the government said, “In this digital age, platforms are being misused by anti-Indian elements and foreign adversaries for anti-Indian propaganda domestically and globally and creating disunity and disunity. disorder in the country.

“Misleading content, fake news, religious or ethnic hate speech is widespread and has the potential to multiply in various forms or new modified content on various other platforms.”

Unverified anonymous accounts

In its petition, Twitter also expressed its objection to the Center’s failure to issue notices to the accounts it sought to block.

However, the Center has now asserted that with respect to anonymous accounts, it is not obligated to provide notice to them, and serving Twitter with notice in this regard would suffice under existing laws.

The government also argued that the accounts in question were unverified and there was no indication whether they were operated by Indian citizens or whether they were fake, anonymous or bots. There is no fundamental right to anonymity in the Constitution, the statement of objections reads.

In addition, the Center supported Twitter’s argument that sending user notices for content related to national security and public order matters “is not a prudent and sensible option. “. The majority of these orders are issued for content related to matters of national security and public order, the government said.

“Examples of such content include anti-Indian, seditious or religious content that may incite violence, and content that affects communal harmony in the country, for example content related to the SFJ or Khalistan.

“These contents are posted by users who are either terrorists or sedition seekers or their sympathizers or foreign adversaries whose intention is to destabilize India and its national security on communal grounds,” the official said. government to the High Court.

(Editing by Amrtansh Arora)

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