The Union government informed the Karnataka High Court that as an important intermediary, micro-blogging site Twitter has an additional responsibility and it is its duty to “provide details of account holders”.
Additional Solicitor General R Sankaranarayanan, appearing for the central government, gave examples of “dangerous” tweets that would “affect the integrity, sovereignty of India or create public (dis)order; then naturally we will step in and either issue a takedown notice or say block the account.” ASG quoted “someone tweeting under the assumed name of the Pakistan government about Indian Occupied Kashmir, someone saying (V) Prabhakaran (LTTE leader ) is a hero and he’s coming back. All of this is so dangerous that it will incite violence. Twitter approached the HC in June 2022 against the takedown orders issued by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).
Twitter argued that the government had a duty to issue a notice to the owners of the twitter handles whose accounts were blocked. Twitter also claimed that the government even prevented it from informing account holders whose accounts had been suspended.
The ASG also told the court that Twitter cannot take protection under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, which exempts social media intermediaries in certain cases. Twitter is bound to follow the guidelines of authorities set by the government, he said.
The ASG said that under Rule 4 of the IT Rules 2021, Twitter is required to provide details required by the government. “It’s very difficult for a government to monitor and do it, as much as it does it requires support,” he said.
According to ASG, “the doctrine of proportionality has undergone many changes in accordance with the change in public values. After the Anuradha Bhasin case, guidelines for intermediaries were also formulated.” “Rule 3 of the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Code of Conduct) Rules required due diligence by an intermediary. Since Twitter is an important social media intermediary, it is the duty of the intermediary to provide details of the account holder,” the ASG told the court.
Justice Krishna S. Dixit asked the ASG, “What is meant by a substantial intermediary?” To which the ASG replied that it depends on the traffic volume of the site. “This is the number of users. The volume. Under Rule 2(1)(v) Significant Social Media Intermediaries having number of registered users in India above this threshold as notified by the Central Government,” he said.
“….It is the responsibility of the intermediary to provide the origin (of a tweet). Rule 4 obliges him to give it. Therefore, the argument must fail,” the ASG said.
During a hearing on February 6, the government told the HC that Twitter as a foreign entity cannot claim protection under Article 19 of the Constitution.
“They are not entitled to Article 19 protection because it is a foreign body, a corporation and a foreign entity. There is nothing arbitrary under Article 14 and Section 69 (A) has been properly complied with. Furthermore, failure to notify an account holder is not a factor that would vitiate the entire proceeding. Therefore, they are not entitled to any relief,” the court said.
Dixit’s single-judge bench, which heard arguments on Thursday, adjourned the hearing to April 10.