Unblocking of handles: IT Ministry notice to Twitter warns of consequences | India News,The Indian Express

Clipped from: https://indianexpress.com/article/india/twitter-accounts-farmers-protest-it-ministry-notice-7172690/

Around 100 Twitter accounts and 150 tweets related to the farmers’ protests went off the microblogging platform on Monday morning as the IT Ministry directed Twitter to remove these accounts under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act.

The government has sent a notice to Twitter for reinstating a number of accounts that were supporting the farmers’ protests despite the IT Ministry directive to block these and warning it of consequences “of non-compliance of directions issued under section 69A of the Act”. Twitter had reinstated the accounts on Monday night after blocking dozens of accounts earlier in the day.

The 18-page noticestated that the “impracticability or the disproportionality of the said measure cannot be decided (by) Twitter which is an intermediary bound by the orders of the Central Government.”

Around 100 Twitter accounts and 150 tweets related to the farmers’ protests went off the microblogging platform on Monday morning as the IT Ministry directed Twitter to remove these accounts under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act. However, the accounts were unblocked late Monday night after a meeting with IT Ministry officials.https://images.indianexpress.com/2020/08/1×1.png

Sources in Twitter told The Indian Express: “Pending our discussions with the regulatory authorities, we temporarily withheld these accounts in India under our Country Withheld Content policy in response to a valid legal request from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. During our subsequent meetings with the officials, Twitter conveyed that the accounts and Tweets in question constitute free speech and are newsworthy. Therefore, these Tweets and accounts have now been unwithheld. Protecting public conversation and Transparency is fundamental to the work we do at Twitter.”

Rules under 69A of the IT Act are used often in government-mandated Internet takedowns. The rules allow the government to block public access to information from a computer “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above”.

After Twitter initially complied with the order, officials of the company and the Ministry met on Monday evening in which the social media platform argued that the content was “free speech” and “newsworthy”.

On Monday evening, government sources told The Indian Express that they had not changed their order in the meeting with Twitter. “Yes, Twitter tried to push back against the order, but we have not changed anything. You can’t write that the PM is carrying out a genocide on farmers and get away with it. Twitter needs to implement this. People can’t go on insulting the Prime Minister of the land like this,” said a government source.

The 18 page notice the the IT ministry is sending to Twitter stated:

“The direction to block the hashtag ‘#ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide’ … has been found to be instigating people to commit cognizable offences in relations to public order and security of the state. It may be noted that the impracticability or the disproportionality of the said measure cannot be decided (by) Twitter which is an intermediary bound by the orders of the Central Government. It may further be noted that the banning of the said hashtag is accompanied by the content that is attached to the said hashtag by the users using the same. Apart from the fact that the hashtag itself is provocative, the assertion of Twitter in its letter dated 1/2/2021 that praises, exaggerations, and crude emotional appeals do not constitute inflammatory speech in light of the judgements of the Honourable Supreme Court, is meritless, as the content attached to the said hashtag had been found to be directly falling afoul of Section 69A of the IT Act. In this regard, it is necessary to point out to the stated irrationality of Twitter conducting a purported constitutional balancing act in the absence of any legal mandate.

It is reiterated that the blocking committee had confirmed the earlier decision to block the URLs/hashtags. After the hearing was concluded on 1/2/2021 also, the interim order continued to remain in operation despite which you chose not to comply to the mandate of law and the order passed by the competent authority, legally endowed with the jurisdiction to pass the same. Instead you chose to send a communication attempting to give justification thereby not only admitting that you have not complied with the order, but also seeking to justify non-compliance.

Finally, it needs to be mentioned that 69A provided for specific consequences on case of non-compliance of directions issued under section 69A of the Act.”

Among the accounts that were suspended include those of Kisan Ekta Morcha and Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan), The Caravan magazine, Prasar Bharti CEO Sashi Shekhar Vempati, Aam Aadmi Party MLA Jarnail Singh, CPI(M) leader Md Salim, activist Hansraj Meena, and actor Sushant Singh.

When the accounts were blocked, a Twitter spokesperson had said, “Many countries have laws that may apply to tweets and/or Twitter account content. In our continuing effort to make our services available to people everywhere, if we receive a properly scoped request from an authorised entity, it may be necessary to withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time. Transparency is vital to protecting freedom of expression, so we have a notice policy for withheld content. Upon receipt of requests to withhold content, we will promptly notify the affected account holders (unless we are prohibited from doing so e.g. if we receive a court order under seal). We disclose these requests in our biannual Twitter Transparency Report.”

Excerpts of notice sent to Twitter

“The direction to block the hashtag ‘#ModiPlanningFarmerGrnocide’ … has been found to be instigating people to commit cognizable offences in relations to public order and security of the state. It may be noted that the impracticability or the disproportionality of the said measure cannot be decided (by) Twitter which is an intermediary bound by the orders of the Central Government. It may further be noted that the banning of the said hashtag is accompanied by the content that is attached to the said hashtag by the users using the same. Apart from the fact that the hashtag itself is provocative, the assertion of Twitter in its letter dated 1/2/2021 that praises, exaggerations, and crude emotional appeals do not constitute inflammatory speech in light of the judgments of the Honourable Supreme Court, is meritless, as the content attached to the said hashtag had been found to be directly falling afoul of Section 69A of the IT Act. In this regard, it is necessary to point out to the stated irrationality of Twitter conducting a purported constitutional balancing act in the absence of any legal mandate.

It is reiterated that the blocking committee had confirmed the earlier decision to block the URLs/hashtags. After the hearing was concluded on 1/2/2021 also, the interim order continued to remain in operation despite which you chose not to comply to the mandate of law and the order passed by the competent authority, legally endowed with the jurisdiction to pass the same. Instead, you chose to send a communication attempting to give justification thereby not only admitting that you have not complied with the order but also seeking to justify non-compliance.

Finally, it needs to be mentioned that 69A provided for specific consequences on case of non-compliance of directions issued under section 69A of the Act.”

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