Top Twitter management in India faces penal action that may include seven-year imprisonment and fine if the company does not comply with the Indian governments latest order to remove accounts and tweets which alleged “farmer genocide” in the country, legal experts said on Wednesday.
Apart from the jail term or fine, the government can also ban the platform in India for allegedly motivating a campaign to abuse, inflame and create tension in the society on “unsubstantiated” grounds, as per the notice issued by the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY).
According to Virag Gupta, lawyer of former RSS ideologue K.N. Govindacharya who is arguing the Designated Officers’ matter before the Delhi High Court, as per the provisions of Section 69A of the IT Act and various rules, any intermediary, including Twitter, is bound to comply with the directions issued by a competent authority.
“In case an intermediary fails to comply with the directions, then the government can initiate action for suspension or blocking of intermediary apps or websites. As per Section 69A (3), there is provision of seven years’ imprisonment and fine,” Gupta told IANS.
The government’s notice said that Twitter, as an intermediary under Section 2[w] of the act, is once again directed to block access by the public to the said Twitter handles and also the said hashtag with immediate effect.
“It needs to be mentioned that Section 69A(3) provides for specific penal consequences in case of non-compliance of the directions issued under Section 69A of the Act,” the letter read.
Twitter declined to comment on the new MeitY notice.
Pavan Duggal, one of the nation’s top cyber law experts, told IANS that under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, the government has been given the powers to block public access to any content through any computer resources.
“Non-compliance with the directions for blocking is a serious, non-bailable offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine,” Duggal noted.
However, till today, we haven’t seen any reported conviction under Section 69(A)(3) of the IT Act, 2000 in the public domain.
“In that direction, appropriate FIR can be registered against intermediaries and service providers and their top management can also be made liable for the said contravention under Section 85 of the Information Technology Act, 2000,” informed Duggal, a seasoned Supreme Court lawyer.
In 2004, Avnish Bajaj, then CEO of Ebay’s subsidiary Baazee.com in India, was arrested under Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, “which relates to transmission of obscene material through electronic media”.
He was sent to judicial custody as a video originated from a clip that was sent from a seller’s cellphone to the buyers on the website. Bajaj was accused of allegedly offering for sale “video clips of two Delhi school children indulging in explicit sexual act”.
Baazee.com had argued that it was unaware of the clip’s content and the item was removed as soon as it was found to be pornographic.
The Supreme Court in 2012 quashed the criminal cases registered against Bajaj.
According to Gupta, in order to take action against Twitter, the government will have to disclose the details of Designated Officers of Twitter and other intermediary companies, with whom authorities are regularly interacting.
“If the designated officer of these companies is placed outside India, then it may be difficult to take penal action for the non-compliance of government directions,” he argued.