While hearing an appeal to a landmark verdict affirming the constitutionality of the Indian government’s controversial blocking practices yesterday, the Karnataka High Court asked the Centre if it would be open to reviewing some of the blocking orders it had issued to X Corp (formerly Twitter), LiveLaw reported.
Appearing for X Corp yesterday, Senior Advocate Sajjan Poovayya added that while the platform has blocked the requested accounts, they still lack reasoning. The Indian government will present its stand on the matter on September 27th.
In a petition filed at the southern court last year, X Corp alleged that 39 of the government’s blocking orders (under Section 69A of the IT Act, 2000) were “substantively and procedurally” deficient, lacked reasoning, and hurt the free speech rights of its users. The High Court quashed the petition in June, largely upholding the government’s censorship practices online, imposing a Rs. 50 lakh fine on X Corp. The microblogging platform appealed the verdict shortly after.
During yesterday’s hearing, the Bench, comprising Justices G. Narendar and Vijaykumar A. Patil, also questioned whether the court was justified in imposing the fine in the absence of provisions for the same. X Corp had separately argued that the fine is unjust and excessive and deters other platforms from challenging suspect Section 69A blocking orders. It added that this will embolden the Indian government to issue blocking orders that violate Section 69A, the rules under it, and the Supreme Court’s verdict in Shreya Singhal v Union of India. The top Court had previously upheld Section 69A in light of its in-built checks and balances.
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Twitter’s original petition questioned the Indian government’s “non-application of mind” in discerning whether content on Twitter posed a threat to public order or not (public order is one of the grounds on which content can be blocked under Section 69A). Some of the accounts and tweets blocked included those of politicians, activists, and journalists. It also argued that the reasons for the blocking must be recorded and communicated with the user so that they can challenge them in court.
In a strong rebuttal, the Indian government argued that foreign entities like Twitter cannot file fundamental rights challenges in India. It also claimed to have followed all the necessary Section 69A blocking procedures. Describing Twitter as ‘miserably’ non-compliant with Indian laws, the government added that the platform cannot act as a suo motu arbiter of free speech online. Doing so would compromise its status as an intermediary under India’s safe harbour laws. Safe harbour protects platforms from being held liable for the third-party content they host.
- “Indian Laws Should Be Dictated By The Constitution”: Pranesh Prakash On Twitter’s Challenge To 39 Blocking Orders
- How Does A Section 69A Blocking Order Come Into Existence?
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