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‘Many of MeitY’s blocking orders show disproportionate use of power’

Claiming that the recent blocking orders given to Twitter by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) were arbitrary and overboard, Twitter has filed a writ petition at the Karnataka High Court seeking judicial review of some of the content that were part of these orders, sources familiar with the filing said.

The sources said that Twitter is also seeking the court to set aside such orders.

This comes against the backdrop of a letter MeitY had sent to Twitter in June claiming non-compliance with the Information Technology Rules 2021.

According to sources, the letter had warned that non-compliance to the rules would mean initiating criminal proceedings against Twitter’s chief compliance officer, and losing safe harbour under Section 79(1) of the IT Act.

Section 79(1) of the IT Act states that intermediaries like Twitter will not be held liable for any third-party information, data, or link hosted on the platform.

Sources familiar with the filing also said that many of the current blocking orders by MeitY were allegedly overboard and arbitrary; and that the ministry did not provide notice to the owners of the content

Firstly, sources said that many of the orders given under Section 69A were on content coming from official accounts of political parties.

Secondly, those familiar with the writ petition also pointed out that many of the blocking orders were examples of alleged disproportionate use of power.

These orders that sources referred to were regarding account suspensions. Sources said MeitY had not provided sufficient reasons under Sec 69A to block such accounts, and that in some cases had only cited the grounds without specifying how it violates the act.

Thirdly, sources said that many of the contents that were listed in the orders were dated. For instance, in June, Twitter withheld several tweets, including that of journalists in response to MeitY’s orders. Journalist Rana Ayyub’s tweets that were suspended in the country were from April 2021.

The fact that there has been an uptick in blocking orders from MeitY is also indicated by the fact that in June, Twitter has already suspended or withheld the most number of content for 2022.

What happens when a blocking order is issued?
Sources close to the filing said once Twitter receives a blocking order, the platform has the opportunity to request and make objections in regular meetings with MeitY. After that, a final blocking order is issued.

Under the IT Rules 2021, if Twitter or any other significant social media intermediaries (platforms with more than five million users) do not comply with the orders, then the chief compliance officer will be held liable.

Meanwhile, just hours after it was reported that Twitter had sued the Indian government, the Minister of State in MeitY Rajeev Chandrasekhar in an apparent response indicated that intermediaries have to follow the rule of the country.

In a tweet, he said, “In India,all incldng (sic) foreign Internet intermediaries/platforms have right to court n judicial review (sic). But equally ALL intermediary/platforms operating here, have unambiguous obligation to comply with our laws n rules.” Moneycontrol

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