Blocking orders must contain reasons that can be communicated to users: Twitter to Karnataka High Court

If reasons were not recorded in such blocking orders, there would be a possibility of their being manufactured at a later stage, counsel for Twitter argued.
Karnataka HC and Twitter
Karnataka HC and Twitter

Twitter argued before the Karnataka High Court on Thursday that blocking orders issued by the Central government must contain reasons that are communicated to users of the social media platform.

It was further argued before Justice Krishna S Dixit that if reasons were not recorded in such blocking orders, there would be a possibility of their being manufactured at a later stage.

"Senior Advocate Haranahalli submits that there is no difference between a reasoned/speaking order. Both need to contain reasons. So that aggrieved can decide whether challenge to be made or not," the single-judge said while recording the submissions.

Justice Dixit was hearing a plea challenging ten blocking orders issued by the Central government to Twitter between February 2021 and February 2022.

Appearing for Twitter, Senior Advocate Ashok Haranahalli also said that simply because the word "communicated" was absent in Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, it did not mean that communication of reasons would be affected, unless there was public interest involved.

"To say, 'I will not record reasons and communicate' will go against the safeguard itself. It is provided so persons affected can go to court and challenge."

Counsel for Twitter concluded their submissions today. After the Central government sought time to prepare their response, the case was adjourned to November 16.

During the previous hearing, Twitter had argued before the High Court that the Central government was not empowered to issue general orders calling for the blocking of social media accounts.

The Court was told that a blocking order could only be issued in a situation where the nature of the content was in line with the grounds laid down under Section 69A of the IT Act.

The ten blocking orders in question, which were issued between February 2021 and February 2022, directed Twitter to block certain information from access to the public, and to suspend several accounts. The blocking orders were handed over to the High Court via sealed covers marked as annexures A to K.

In its petition filed before the High Court, Twitter has contended that account-level blocking is a disproportionate measure and violates the rights of users under the Constitution.

Out of a total of 1,474 accounts and 175 tweets, Twitter has challenged the blocking of only 39 URLs.

The petition states that the orders in question are manifestly arbitrary, and procedurally and substantively not in consonance with Section 69A of the IT Act.

Further, they fail to comply with the procedures and safeguards prescribed by the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009 (Blocking Rules), it has been submitted.

Twitter has also argued that the direction to block entire accounts falls afoul of Section 69A of the IT Act.

The Central government, on the other hand, submitted that the directions to block certain Twitter accounts were issued in national and public interest and to prevent incidents of lynching and mob violence.

The government has emphasised that it is committed to providing an open, safe, trusted and accountable internet to its citizens, and that its powers to block information has a limited scope.

[Read our live coverage of today's hearing here]

Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news