The Union government issued blocking orders in respect of tweets, content and accounts without following the relevant Supreme Court guideline, social media giant Twitter argued on Monday in the High Court of Karnataka and said its rights were also affected and challenged the confidentiality clause invoked by the Centre.
The High Court rejected an impleading application filed on behalf of senior advocate Sanjay Hegde whose Twitter account was blocked. He has already filed a petition in the Delhi High Court in this regard.
When Twitter’s petition challenging the Centre’s several orders to block tweets, content and accounts of users and related pleas came up for hearing before Justice Krishna S Dixit, senior counsel for the social media giant, Ashok Haranahalli argued that blocking orders were issued without following the guideline laid down by the Supreme Court in the Shreya Singhal case. The apex court had struck down section 66A of the Information Technology Act in that case.
Twitter has claimed that the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) ordered blocking without notifying the users and even Twitter was not allowed to inform the users.
Haranahalli submitted that there was no way of knowing if the procedures were followed. Since Twitter was an intermediary, its rights were also affected when the authorities do not issue notice to the user whose account was blocked.
He challenged the confidentiality clause in the blocking orders by which the users are not informed of the action taken against them. “Confidentiality clause is applicable to only third parties but it cannot be said that I cannot disclose even to the aggrieved,” he argued. Confidentiality among the authority, user and intermediary would not arise.
Haranahalli submitted that blocking has to be for specific tweets and not entire accounts. He gave the example of banning books and said the author himself cannot be banned. “Suppose I write a bad book. Only the book can be banned,” he said.
He argued that “a person may have thousands of followers and if account is blocked he will lose all of them. Suppose he opens new account, he will have to establish himself again.” Recording his submission, the court noted, “He finds fault with order by involving principle of proportionality. Only the tweet being blocked is one scenario and blocking account is another scenario.” The senior advocate argued that “If they go on blocking every account without giving valid reason then platform itself is affected.
Another senior counsel for Twitter, Arvind Datar submitted a 300-page compilation on how the issue is handled in various counties.
While in USA the government cannot direct anybody to remove any content, in Australia a safety commissioner can issue takedown notices which can be appealed against. Australian takedown orders are valid for three months, but in India it is permanent. Also, since there is no recourse for appeal, aggrieved users and networks can only approach the High Courts.
He submitted that only on grounds mentioned in 69 (A) of the IT Act general blocking orders can be issued. This provision covers empowering the government to block access to content.
Senior advocate Aditya Sondi moved an impleading application on behalf of senior advocate Sanjay Hegde whose Twitter account was blocked by Twitter.
He has already filed a petition in the Delhi High Court and since the two parties in this case were relying on that case he wanted to assist the court here.
The Karnataka High Court, however, rejected the plea and said the argument that “some of the pleadings before Delhi High Court are referred to by parties in the case is going to prejudice his client is difficult to countenance.” The High Court checked the contents of the sealed envelope submitted by Twitter containing blocking orders of the government on content, tweets and Twitter accounts.
The court later adjourned the hearing to Tuesday.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)