Regulating The Social Media

Context- 

  • In the wake of the intensification of the farmer’s protest and reports of violent incidents on the republic day , a number of twitter accounts became inaccessible in India. These included ( among many others ) the accounts of the Caravan Magazines, the actor Shushant Singh and Kishan Ekta Morcha handle, which was chronicling the protests.
  • As outrage mounted the Government of India clarified that it had invoked Section 69 A of the Information Technology act and ordered Twitter to block access to these accounts. Government of India has given the reason that it was trying to trend hashtag #ModiPlanningfarmerSuicide. Provoking genocide is deemed a threat to public order.

Issues Raised by Twitter-

In a blog posted by Twitter, it has remarkably argued that the government’s own actions in directing it to withhold access to the accounts of journalists, activists and politician, violated Indian Law and constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech which was given as fundamental right under Article 19

Approach of Government of India-

  • Section 69A of the IT Act grants the Government the power to issue directions to intermediaries for blocking access to any information that it considers prejudicial to among other things the sovereignty and integrity of India, National Security or Public order.
  • In 2009, the Government also issued Blocking Rules which set up the procedure for blocking and also stated that all requests and complaints would remain strictly confidential

Approach of Supreme court-

 In the Shreya Singhal Case that is well known for striking down section 66 A of the IT Act, the scope of Section 69A and the Blocking Rules were also litigated before the Supreme Court. The court noted that every affected individual would retain the constitutional right to challenge a blocking order, through a writ petition before the High Court.

Matter of Concern-

  • It makes censorship an easy and almost completely costless option for the government.
  •  Rather than having to go to court and prove a violation even in the prima facie of law, the government  can simply direct intermediaries to block content and place the burden of going to court upon the users. 
  • There are no procedural safeguards, no opportunity for a hearing to the affected parties and no need for reasoned orders. 
  • It violates both free speech rights as well as the rights to due process.

Way Forward-

Legally the best case scenario would be to prohibit the government from being able to directly order intermediaries to block access to online information except in narrowly defined emergency cases and to require it to go through court to do so with an adequate opportunity for affected parties to define themselves.

Download Link - Daily Current Affairs 15th February 2021