The Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology directed Twitter to take down 175 tweets and more than 1,400 accounts from February 2021 to February 2022, the microblogging platform told the Karnataka High Court, The Indian Express reported on Friday.
On Tuesday, Twitter moved the High Court seeking the quashing of orders for blocking 39 of these links. The notices and blocking orders under contention have been sent under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act. The provision allows the government to block public access to content in the interest of national security.
The social media company said in its petition that increasingly, the ministry had been ordering it to block entire accounts without informing it about the specific tweets that necessitated such action. “Several of the URLs contain political and journalistic content,” the petition said. “Blocking of such information is a gross violation of the freedom of speech guaranteed to citizen-users of the platform.”
The microblogging site added that in many cases, the ministry did not cite reasons for issuing the orders to block content, which is a requirement under Section 69A.
Twitter said that the ministry sent the company a letter on June 27, directing it to comply with the blocking orders. The government warned of serious consequences, including withdrawal of protection under Section 79 (1) of the Information Technology Act and initiation of criminal proceedings under the Act, according to ANI.
Section 79(1) of the Act states that intermediaries (such as Twitter) will not be liable for any third party information, data or link hosted by it.
On multiple occasions in the past, the central government has asked Twitter to take down posts and accounts, including those that are critical of its actions.
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 which started in November 2020. The social media platform initially refused, but eventually relented after its local employees were threatened with prison time.
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 new Information Technology rules that came into force in May last year.
On July 5, 2021, the government filed an affidavit in the Delhi High Court arguing that Twitter had lost the immunity from legal action provided to online platforms because it had failed to comply with portions of the IT rules.