Platforms like Twitter can't decide what is free speech: Centre to HC

Platforms like Twitter can't decide what is free speech: Centre to HC

Twitter had filed a petition in Karnataka High Court, challenging orders issued by the Central government to block 39 handles last year.

Twitter’s petition challenging action against multiple handles is not maintainable, the central government told Karnataka HC Thursday. Declaring Twitter’s content management policies “a failure”, the Centre said the micro-blogging site is “not taking effective steps to prevent the spread of fake news or deliberate misinformation”.

The government, dubbing Twitter a “habitual non-compliant” platform, reiterated that the Information Technology Act, 2000, is the law of the land, adding that “foreign platforms providing services in the country shall not be entitled to claim that Indian Laws and Rules are not applicable upon them”.

“It is not for the intermediary platform to define what free speech is and what is not,” the government told the court in response to a petition filed by Twitter opposing 10 orders passed by the Centre last year.

In its petition, Twitter had termed these orders — aimed at blocking 39 handles — “arbitrary, excessive and disproportionate”, arguing that most of these orders were not supported by reasons.

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Twitter had also contended that the orders did not comply with Section 69A of the Information Technology Act which allows the Centre to issue directions for blocking access to any information online.

According to the law, such measures can only be taken “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence”.

Challenging the claims made by the San Francisco-headquartered company, the central government said Twitter complied with blocking orders “only after reminders and show cause notices”.

The government also alleged that this delay on the part of Twitter was intentional, submitting that the company “purposely caused inordinate delay” in complying with the directions (in some cases, more than a year).

This, the Centre said, was done to “ensure that the blocking directions lose its [sic] value and the content under Section 69A become more viral and also spread to other platforms also, resulting in increase in threat to sovereignty and integrity, national security and public order issues eventually causing risks to the citizens and the country.”

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