'Habitual Non-Compliant Platform': Centre's Latest Affidavit in Legal Tussle with X

The government's filing urges the Karnataka high court to dismiss X-Corp's appeal, observing that the company has undermined 'the role of the government in a democratic setup'.

New Delhi: The Union government has called X-Corp (formerly, Twitter) a “habitual non-compliant platform” in its latest court filing in relation to the ongoing legal tussle between the Narendra Modi government and the platform.

The details about the government’s latest affidavit – filed before the Karnataka high court on August 24 – came to light after the news agency Reuters published a story based on its contents earlier this week.

“X-Corp does not follow the law of the land,” the government said, adding that this lowered “the authority of the law, judiciary, and executive”.

The government’s filing is in response to X-Corp’s appeal before the Karnataka high court, challenging the court’s June verdict where it had dismissed the social media platform’s challenge questioning the government’s orders to block certain accounts and posts. The appeal by X-Corp is also challenging the court’s earlier direction which imposed a penalty of Rs 50 lakh against it for not complying with the court’s orders for over a year.

The government’s filing, which runs into 28 pages, urges the court to dismiss X-Corp’s appeal, observing that the company has undermined “the role of the government in a democratic setup”. It has also alleged that the social media platform had in the past unblocked some accounts without its knowledge even after orders were issued calling to block them.

The government’s affidavit goes on to charge X-Corp, saying that its “compliance rates with government requests have been significantly low”. “It is the duty of the government to ensure that platforms are doing business in a legally compliant manner,” the government’s Information Technology (IT) ministry said in the affidavit.

X-Corp and the Modi government have been at loggerheads since 2o21 when the former refused to block certain accounts related to farmers’ protests. The government issued takedown orders against accounts which it deemed supportive of the Khalistani movement, posts which allegedly spread misinformation about farmers’ protests, and also those critical of the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legal battle between X-Corp and the Modi government goes back to 2021 before the platform was taken over by Elon Musk in 2022.

The government affidavit makes it clear that compliance with Indian laws cannot be seen as an “option or hurdle to business”, and warned the platform that it could end up losing protection and attract penal action. The protection, that the government refers to, is related to the immunity the platform enjoys as an intermediary for the content posted by users, allowing it to take refuge under “safe harbour” protection given in law.

Accusing the platform of “advocating a dangerous trend” by seeking to judge the merits of government orders, the government’s affidavit said that such a situation could make all platforms the “final arbitrator of lawful orders”.