Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Contours of Twitter-government faceoff

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IT Act

Mains level : Paper 2- Section 69A of IT Act and issues with it

What is the faceoff about

  • Recently, Indian government issued direction to Twitter, ordering it to shut down user accounts connected with farmers’ protests.
  • The government has to exercise powers under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act to block user accounts critical of the farm bills.
  • The accounts which were sought to be censored are back online.
  • This is due to Twitter’s evident refusal to comply with the directions after a constitutional appraisal.
  • It has, as per press statements, cited the doctrine of proportionality in its defence.

Concerns with the directive

  • This direction presents a clear breach of fundamental rights but also reveals a complex relationship between the government and large platforms on the understanding of the Constitution of India.
  • The specific legal order issued is secret.
  • This brings into focus the condition of secrecy that is threshold objection to multiple strands of our fundamental rights.
  • It conflicts against the rights of the users who are denied reasons for the censorship.
  • Secrecy also undermines the public’s right to receive information, which is a core component of the fundamental freedom to speech and expression.
  • This is an anti-democratic practice that results in an unchecked growth of irrational censorship but also leads to speculation that fractures trust.
  • The other glaring deficiency is the complete absence of any prior show-cause notice to the actual users of these accounts by the government.
  • This is contrary to the principles of natural justice.
  • This again goes back to the vagueness and the design faults in the process of how directions under Section 69A are issued.

Constitutionality of Section 69A of IT Act

  • The secrecy clause represents a failure on the part of the Union executive, which framed the process for blocking websites in 2009.
  • he Supreme Court also failed to substantively examine the clause.
  • This is despite the opportunity offered by its celebrated judgment Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, when it struck down Section 66A of the IT Act as unconstitutional.
  • At the same time, the court stated in Shreya Singhal, that an aggrieved party could approach a court for remedy if their website or user account was blocked under Section 69A.
  • More recently, the court, when adjudicating the constitutional permissibility of the telecommunications shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir by its judgment in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India directed pro-active publication of all orders for internet shutdowns.
  • After this, a decent argument may be made that directions for blocking now need to be made public. 
  • However, several state governments are actively refusing compliance on the publication of orders on internet shutdowns.

Consider the question “Use of Section 69 of the IT Act to suspend the account of the users on a social media platform has raised concern. Examine these concerns.”

Conclusion

The episode leaves a sense of confusion and wonder about why our own government formed under the Constitution may be failing to fulfil its obligations when strangers who trade in our data for profit are seemingly more eager.

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