The government should provide Twitter users reason for blocking their accounts, the social media platform argued before the Karnataka High Court on Thursday, Live Law reported.
The High Court is hearing a plea filed by Twitter challenging Central government’s orders to block 39 tweets and accounts on the platform between February 2021 and February 2022.
At the last hearing of the matter on October 17, the court had referred to phrase “reasons to be recorded” mentioned in the part of the Information Technology Act, which deals with blocking of social media content. The judges had asked whether the public could be given access to the reasons for blocking.
On Thursday, Senior Advocate Ashok Haranahalli, appearing for Twitter, argued that besides recording the reasons for blocking an account, the authorities should also communicate them to the users.
He contended that unless the reasons are mentioned, a user or a social media platform like Twitter will not be able to challenge the blocking order in a court, Bar and Bench reported.
The court then pointed out that there are certain laws where Parliament has decided to add the phrase “reasons to be recorded and communicated”.
“Based upon that…Once Parliament says ‘reasons to be recorded’ [in IT Act], it meant reasons [for blocking accounts] should not be communicated to the party,” the court said.
To this, Haranahalli said that mere recording of reasons will not be of any help. He added that not informing the users reasons for blocking their accounts cannot be considered a safeguard.
“Even in absence of the word ‘communicated’, the reasons so recorded should be communicated unless there is public interest,” the lawyer argued.
The hearing was adjourned till November 16 after Additional Solicitor General MB Nargund sought more time to make his arguments.
At earlier hearings too, Twitter has told the court that rights of the users under Article 19 (right to freedom of speech and expression) are infringed if their accounts are blocked without notice and that the reason for restricting accounts should be mentioned.
The social media company has also argued that orders under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, can only be issued if it is in line with the six grounds mentioned in the law.
The grounds for blocking information are that it should be in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of the country, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence.
At the last hearing, Senior Advocate Arvind Datar had also contended that intermediaries like Twitter should have the power to move court against a government order to block user accounts on their platform, Live Law reported.
In response, the Centre had argued that platforms like Twitter cannot dictate what constitutes free speech and what content on social media could threaten national security.
In February 2021, the government asked Twitter to remove hundreds of accounts that criticised the Centre over its handling of the large-scale farmer protests that started in November 2020. The social media platform initially refused, but eventually relented after its local employees were threatened with prison time.
In July, Twitter moved the Karnataka High Court challenging the legality of the blocking orders, saying they “demonstrate excessive use of powers”. Twitter told the High Court that between February 2021 and February 2022, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology asked it to take down 175 tweets and more than 1,400 accounts.
In April last year, the Centre had asked Twitter to pull down accounts that criticised the government’s handling of Covid-19 during the second wave when lakhs of people died. The Centre has also repeatedly criticised Twitter for not fully complying with the Information Technology rules that came into force in May last year.