Context: On June 30, 2023, the Karnataka High Court dismissed Twitter’s challenge to the issuance of blocking orders by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) concerning the taking down of Twitter accounts and specific tweets. The High Court admonished Twitter for not complying with the orders and imposed an astounding cost of ₹50 lahks on the United States-based social media company.
Judgement of Karnataka High Court
- On the issue of locus standi: It observed that users of Twitter were not “downtrodden” or did not “suffer from some handicap” that prevented them from accessing the appropriate remedies available to them. Additionally, the High Court held that claims of users whose tweets or accounts were blocked could not be espoused by Twitter and that none of the affected users had approached the High Court.
- Observation on Shreya Singhal case: Karnataka High Court has held that observations in Shreya Singhal cannot be construed to mean providing notice to the users of the content, and that even if reasons are recorded in writing, they may not be conveyed to the user.
- Observation on Art 19(2): High Court’s reproduction of certain portions of blocking orders in its judgment reveals that one of the reasons was that the content could lead to the spread of “fake news” and “misinformation”, which had the potential to disturb “public order” and threaten the “security of [the] State”.
Issues related to the case
- Petitioner being a foreign company cannot avail any remedy of fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19 (1) and Article 21 of the Constitution.
- Twitter, being an intermediary, can it be made responsible for the speech of individuals on its platform?
Procedural Safeguards against online speech
- Art 19: No person shall be denied freedom of speech of expression except the ground mentioned in 19(2)
- Art 21: No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law
- Sec 79(1) of IT Act 2000: Provide for exemption from liability of intermediary in certain cases famously known as “Safe Harbour Clause”.
Regulation of the online content
- Section 69 of the IT act, 2000 gives the Central and State government the power to issue directions for the interception, monitoring, or decryption of any information through any computer resource.
- Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 issued under section 87(2) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 deals with due diligence by Intermediaries and GRIEVANCE REDRESSAL MECHANISM (under Part II) and with the blocking of information in case of emergency (Rule 16).
Other Cases Related to Freedom in the online sphere
Shreya Singhal case
- Section 66 of the IT Act was abrogated in its entirety for infringing Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution and not protected under Article 19(2).
Anuradha Bhasian case
- Court said that nowadays the internet has become an essential part of everyday life and thereby freedom of speech and expression and freedom to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business over the Internet is a part of the fundamental rights under Part III of the Constitution.
Why HC dismissed the twitter’s challenge?
- The High Court rejected Twitter’s contention that Section 69A only permits the blocking of specific tweets not wholesale blocking.
- The content posted could lead to the spread of “fake news” and “misinformation”, which had the potential to disturb “public order” and threaten the “security of [the] State”.
“The Online Harms White Paper” of UK parliament
The Paper proposed a single regulatory framework to tackle a range of harms. At its core would be a duty of care for internet companies, including social media platforms. An independent regulator would oversee and enforce compliance with the duty.