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Govt Asked to Block Accounts of Those Tweeting on Farmers' Protest, COVID Response: Twitter to HC

Twitter argued before the Karnataka high court that the firm was asked to block entire accounts, although Section 69A of the IT Act does not permit that. It only permits to block information, or a tweet.

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New Delhi: Twitter informed the Karnataka high court on Monday, September 26 that the Union government was asking it to block entire accounts of holders rather than just their tweets because of their political content related to the farmers’ protest and alleged mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senior counsel Arvind Datar, representing Twitter, argued that the company was asked to block entire accounts, although Section 69A of the IT Act does not permit blocking of the whole account. It only permits to block information, or a particular tweet, under the section of the Act.

It argued that the Union government’s direction to block whole accounts will affect its business, adding that several prominent persons have their accounts on the platform.

“When you pass a blocking order- it affects the intermediary, and the person. Since it prevents the platform from purveying information,” the senior counsel said, as reported by Bar and Bench.

Additionally, Dhar added that about 50-60% of the tweets that the Union government had asked Twitter to block under the orders were “innocuous” (not harmful or offensive).

“For example, during the farmer’s agitation in Delhi.. they had simply asked to completely block the accounts. When newspapers and TV channels are reporting it, why do you tell me to completely block all these accounts,” Bar and Bench reported him as saying.

On the blocking of entire accounts due to political criticism, he said, “At the heart of 19 (1)(a) is the right to criticise… freedom of speech includes the right to criticise the government. The Supreme Court has said that you may criticise within the bounds of the law. You are entitled to your opinions.”

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Justice Dixit, while hearing the case, sought a comparative analysis of how other jurisdictions across the world had dealt with similar issues, the report said.

In July, Twitter had moved the high court challenging ten blocking orders issued by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY). The company had challenged MeitY’s blocking orders from February 2, 2021 to February 28, 2022, saying on grounds of violation of freedom of speech and the authorities not issuing notice to the alleged violators before asking Twitter to take down content.

The MeitY had on September 1 filed a 101-page statement of objection to Twitter’s petition.

The case will be heard next on October 17.