Twitter is a foreign business entity and has no right to speak on behalf of those whose accounts have been blocked on government orders, the Centre told the Karnataka High Court on Tuesday, the Hindustan Times reported.

The High Court is hearing a plea filed by Twitter challenging the Central government’s orders to block 39 tweets and accounts on the platform between February 2021 and February 2022.

Twitter has told the court that the rights of its users under Article 19 (right to freedom of speech and expression) are infringed upon if their accounts are blocked without notice and that the reason for restricting accounts should be mentioned.

Questioning the maintainability of the petition, Additional Solicitor General R Sankarnarayan said that the social media platform was not the aggrieved entity in this case. Sankarnarayan also argued that Twitter could only approach the court claiming violation of rights under Article 14 (equality before law) if the government has acted arbitrarily.

Twitter is a platform, anyone can join,” Sankarnarayan said, according to Bar and Bench. “The account holder is not carrying on a business. He only expresses. The government says it is likely to affect the interests of India…The intermediary [Twitter] should distance itself from the account holder.”

He said that Twitter cannot raise contentions on the blocking of any account since it does not have any legal or fundamental right under the Constitution.

“The petitioner being a foreign company cannot avail any remedy of fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19 (1) [freedom of speech and expression] and Article 21 [right to life] of the Constitution,” Sankarnarayan said, according to the Hindustan Times. “The petitioner company does not have a legal mandate to espouse the cause of Twitter users/account holders.”

The government counsel also reiterated that accounts that were block had posted content which could damage national security and law and order in the country, according to The Indian Express.

The case

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 that started in November 2020. The social media platform initially refused but eventually relented after its local employees were threatened with prison.

In July, Twitter moved the Karnataka High Court challenging the legality of the blocking orders, saying they “demonstrate excessive use of powers”. Twitter told the High Court that between February 2021 and February 2022, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology asked it to take down 175 tweets and more than 1,400 accounts.

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 Information Technology rules that came into force in May last year.