Twitter moves court against govt orders on blocking of content

In its plea, Twitter has argued blocking orders are arbitrary and fail to provide notices to the originators of the content and are disproportionate in several cases


Twitter is seeking to overturn some Indian government orders to take down content on the social media platform, a source familiar with the matter said, in a legal challenge which alleges abuse of power by officials, according to a Reuters report.

Twitter has filed its challenge in the Karnataka High Court, according to an NDTV report. The US company’s attempt to get a judicial review is part of a growing confrontation with New Delhi.

‘Arbitrary blocking orders’

In its plea, Twitter has argued blocking orders are arbitrary and fail to provide notices to the originators of the content and are disproportionate in several cases. “Similarly, several could pertain to political content that is posted by official handles of political parties. Blocking of such information is a violation of the freedom of speech guaranteed to citizen users of the platform. Further, the content at issue does not have any apparent proximate relationship to the grounds under Section 69A…” Twitter said it is committed to the principles of openness and transparency.


Twitter has been asked by Indian authorities over the past year to act on content, including accounts supportive of an independent Sikh state, posts alleged to have spread misinformation about protests by farmers and over tweets critical of the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In June, MeitY [Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology] sent Twitter a letter detailing serious consequences of non-compliance, including, but not limited to, criminal proceedings against Twitter’s Chief Compliance Officer, and granted it last opportunity to comply with a series of blocking orders…issued under Section 69A of the Information Technology (IT) Act…”, a person familiar with the matter said, reports Hindustan Times.

“Failing to do so would cause Twitter to lose its safe harbour immunity as available to it under Section 79 (1) of the IT Act. Due to the seriousness of these threats, Twitter has chosen to challenge the blocking orders under Section 69A through the legal mechanism of a writ petition before the high court of Karnataka.”

The company has argued that the orders are procedurally and substantially deficient of the Section 69A requirements and that they demonstrate excessive use of powers and are disproportionate. It argued that in several cases, there are demands for entire accounts to be blocked, the report adds.

Also read: Twitter India’s ‘last chance’ to comply with IT rules ends on Monday

Govt warning to Twitter

The IT ministry did not respond on Tuesday to a request for comment about Twitter’s legal move. The government has previously said that big social media firms, including Twitter, have not complied with removal requests, despite their legal standing.

Last month, Twitter was warned by the IT ministry of criminal proceedings if it did not comply with some orders. Twitter complied this week, the source said, so as not to lose liability exemptions available as a host of content.

The IT act allows the government to block public access to content in the interest of national security, among other reasons. Twitter, which nearly has 24 million users in India, also argues in its filing that some of the orders failed to give notice to authors of the content.

It also says that some were related to political content posted by official handles of political parties, the blocking of which amount to violation of freedom of speech, the source added.

Govt-Twitter tussle

Tensions with the government flared early last year when Twitter declined to fully comply with an order to take down accounts and posts which New Delhi alleged were spreading misinformation about anti-government protests by farmers.

The company has also been subject to police investigations and last year many ministers moved to domestically developed platform Koo, accusing Twitter of non-compliance with local laws.

Also read: Twitter handle that flagged Zubairs 2018 tweet deleted: Police sources

India, which industry transparency reports show has among the highest government requests for content takedowns, is considering some amendments to its new IT rules, including the introduction of a government-run appeals panel with the power to reverse the content moderation decisions of social media firms.