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Interview: Gautam Bhatia on reforming Section 69A and whether Twitter has discretion on blocking orders

Twitter blocked government order

Twitter has an obligation to follow Indian law, but it also has to make its own assessment on whether an account or tweet is indeed breaking Indian law, said Gautam Bhatia, a lawyer and constitutional expert. In an interview to MediaNama, Bhatia called for reforms to Section 69A of the Information Technology Act: he proposed that the government be forced to get judicial orders for every blocking order it issues, and for such orders to be made public for open scrutiny. Bhatia said that Twitter needed to assess blocking orders to see that they are justified, and inform the government that it has got the law wrong. It is quite possible for the government to get the law wrong, not out of incompetence, but deliberately for its own interests when it comes to "anti-government tweets", he felt. Bhatia's comments come in light of the ongoing standoff between Twitter and the Indian government — the latter has been critical of the social media company for refusing to block accounts and tweets related to the farmer protests. Twitter initially announced that it had suspended only around 500 accounts, and refused to block accounts of politicians, activists, journalists and media entities. Nonetheless, Twitter's initial refusal to comply with the orders has given rise to much debate on how blocking orders should be issued, and whether Twitter (or any social media platform) has a say in the matter at all. Below are excerpts from the conversation. Please note that the language has been edited…

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