The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on Wednesday sent a final notice to Twitter, taking a tough stand against “offensive” hashtags and handles on the microblogging-social networking platform. The government has sent a notice to Twitter, warning the social media platform to take action against Twitter’s handles posting offensive hashtags, else cases will be registered against it.
What was the Issue?
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology released the notice after Twitter restored nearly 250 accounts on Monday that were blocked earlier in the day, following a ministry complaint.
“An interim order dated 31.01.2021 was issued by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology [Meity] on an emergency blocking of 257 URLs and 1 hashtag pursuant to section 69 A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (hereinafter referred to as the Act) and Rule 9 of the Information Technology [Procedure and Protections for Blocking Access to Information by the Public] Rules, 2009”, the Ministry stated in its recent order.
The interim order was issued on the ground that the said Twitter URLs and hashtags disseminate disinformation about the ongoing protests by farmers and have the potential to lead to imminent violence affecting the situation of public order in the nation.
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What did the note from GOVT claim?
On page 5 of notice, the ministry stated “The content with #ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide hashtag was posted on Twitter which was designed to inflame passions, hatred and factually incorrect.”
“Incitement to genocide is not a freedom of speech. It is a threat to law and order,” said the official statement.
The document was marked with a warning: “It needs to be mentioned that Section 69A provides for specific penal consequences in case of non-compliance of the directions issued under section 69A of the Act.”
The Notice of the Government cites more than half a dozen judgments of the Supreme Court, including those of the Constitutional Bench, relating to public order and the rights of authorities.
“Twitter unilaterally unblocked accounts/tweets despite the government order for blocking.”Despite the government’s blocking order, Twitter unilaterally unblocked accounts/tweets.
As an intermediary, the government said that Twitter is obliged to follow the instructions as per the satisfaction of authorities as to which inflammatory material would arouse excitement and affect public order.
“Twitter is an intermediary and they are obliged to obey the direction of the government. Refusal to do so will invite penal action.”Twitter is an intermediary and they are expected to obey the government’s direction. Refusing to do so would call for penal action.
Twitter just an intermediary
“Twitter cannot sit as an appellate authority over the satisfaction of the authorities about its potential impact on derailing public order. It is only an intermediary.” A government official stated
He said, “Twitter cannot assume the role of the court and justify non-compliance. Twitter may face penal action for not complying with government orders.”
The note also said, “You [Twitter] are aware of the prevailing situation, which not only has the potential but has, in fact, resulted in a major public order issue on 26.01.2021. The statutory authorities are doing everything possible to ensure that no adverse public order situation takes place and no cognizable offenses are committed.”
“In light of these developments and as a part of due process, and as per the settled practice, an order was passed under Rule 9 of the Information Technology [Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public] Rules, 2009, which have ensued in the exercise of powers under section 69A of the Information and Technology Act, 2000,” the document read.
Government’s Earlier Order
The government declared the order on January 31 at about 3:00 PM.
“It is unfortunate that although the order was communicated by us and received by you immediately, you chose not to comply with the same until almost the time set for the committee meeting as provided for in Rule 9, i.e. 1.2.2021 at 3 pm.
“The offending handles/hashtags were blocked only a few minutes before your Advocate appeared before the Committee, on 1.2.2021 at 3 pm. It is thus clear that the offending tweets/hashtag remained in the public domain and must have been tweeted and re-tweeted several times at the risk and cost of public order and the risk of incitement to the commission of offenses.”
Twitter denies abiding by the center’s order
On February 1, Twitter responded to the ministry, refusing to comply with the government’s request.
“Before adverting to the facts at hand, it is necessary to lay down the statutory framework. It may be noted that as per Indian law, with which Twitter is bound to comply.”It is necessary to lay down the statutory framework before advertising the facts at hand. It can be noted that Twitter is bound to comply with Indian law.
“Twitter is an “intermediary” as defined under Section 2[w] of the Information Technology Act and provides a platform wherein opinions of persons are communicated across the world and are open for all to see.” the notice stated.
The government cited Section 69A of the Act, which provides the central government with authority in cases where it considers it appropriate or expedient to order an intermediary to block public access and or cause any information generated, transmitted, obtained, stored, or hosted in any computer resource to be blocked for public access if the government is satisfied that the same information is generated, transmitted, stored or hosted in any computer resource
The notice warns that statutory consequences will follow in the event of non-compliance.
ON FREEDOM OF SPEECH
Citing global jurisprudence, the government says, “The principle of secondary liability provides that despite the intermediary not being the creator of the problematic/illegal content, such intermediary would have to share the liability in a case such problematic content breaches the stipulations of the law as it enables the largescale projecting/publicizing/advertising of the content. It may be noted that such liability is over and above the liability in case of deliberate non-compliance of orders of the central government.”
The government said it was astonishing that Twitter, despite being bound by the constitutional requirements validly passed by the relevant legislature, commented on issues of freedom of speech. “significant issues relating to freedom of speech relating to the power of the central government under section 69A of the Act and the constitutional desirability of the interim order dated 31.1.2021.”
“before clarifying the understanding of the central government on the meaning and scope of “before clarifying the central government’s understanding of the meaning and scope of ” and the design and intent of Section 69A of the Act, it is necessary to point out that Twitter has no constitutional, statutory or any legal basis whatsoever to comment upon the interplay of statutory provisions with constitutional principles or to unilaterally read down the scope of statutory provisions as per its own limited private understanding of the constitutional and statutory laws of India.” says the document.
The government said that in the case of Twitter, which is an intermediary bound by the central government’s orders, the impracticability or disproportionality of the question can not be determined.
Notice for a ban on the said “Hashtag is accompanied by the content that had been attached to the said hashtag by the users using the same.” sources in the government said.