Twitter’s Duty To Provide Account Holders Details, Govt Tells Karnataka HC; Cites ‘dangerous’ tweets

The Central government has informed the Karnataka High Court that being an important intermediary, micro-blogging site Twitter has an additional responsibility, and it had a duty to “provide details of account holders”.

Additional Solicitor General R Sankaranarayanan, who appeared for the central government, cited the example of “dangerous” tweets that “affects the integrity, sovereignty of India or is going to create a public(d)order; so naturally We will take steps and either we will issue a takedown notice, or we will say block the account.” Someone posts a tweet about Indian Occupied Kashmir using a pseudonym of the Pakistan government, someone says (v) Prabhakaran (LTTE leader) is a hero, and he is coming back. All this is so dangerous that it is inciting violence. Twitter approached the HC in June 2022 against the take-down orders issued by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).

Twitter claims that the government is required to issue notices to owners of Twitter handles whose accounts have been blocked. Twitter has also claimed that the government has prevented it from notifying account holders whose accounts have been ordered to be blocked.

The ASG also told the court that Twitter cannot seek protection under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act which exempts social media intermediaries in certain cases. He said that Twitter is bound to follow the instructions of the authorities designated by the government.

The ASG said that as per Rule 4 of the IT Rules 2021, Twitter was required to provide details as required by the government. “It is very difficult for the government to monitor and do it, to the extent that it does, it needs support,” he said.

According to the ASG, “The principle of proportionality has changed a lot with the change in social values. Arbitrator guidelines were also framed after the Anuradha Bhasin case.” Rule 3 of the Information Technology (Arbitrator Guidelines and Digital Media Code of Conduct) Rules, a Due diligence by the intermediary is required. Twitter being an important social media intermediary, it is the duty of the intermediary to provide the details of the account holder,” the ASG told the court.

Justice Krishna S Dixit asked the ASG, “What is meant by an important arbitrator?” To which the ASG replied that it depends on the amount of traffic on the site. “It is the number of users. Volume. Significant social media intermediaries as per Rule 2(1)(v) whose number of registered users in India exceeds the limit notified by the Central Government,” he said.

“….it is the duty of the moderator to provide the source (of the tweet). Rule 4 says that he must give. Hence, the argument has to fall flat,” the ASG said.

During a hearing on February 6, the government told the HC that Twitter being a foreign entity cannot claim protection under Article 19 of the Constitution.

“They are not entitled to protection under Article 19, as it is a foreign body, corporate and foreign entity. There is nothing arbitrary under Article 14 and Section 69(a) has been properly followed. Further, failure to give notice to the account holder is not a factor to vitiate the entire proceedings. Therefore, they are not entitled to any relief,” the court was told.

A single-judge bench of Justice Dixit heard the arguments on Thursday and adjourned the hearing till April 10.

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