Social media platforms must respect fundamental rights of citizens, Centre tells Delhi High Court

In an affidavit filed in response to a petition by a Twitter user against the suspension of his account by the micro-blogging platform, the central government said that social media platforms should not take down the account itself or completely suspend it in all cases

PTIUpdated: Wednesday, March 30, 2022, 03:36 PM IST
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Delhi High Court | High Court of Delhi website

New Delhi: The Centre Wednesday told the Delhi High Court that an individual's liberty and freedom of cannot be "waylaid or jettisoned in the slipstream of social and technological advancement" and the social media platforms must respect the fundamental rights of the citizens and conform to the Constitution of India.

In an affidavit filed in response to a petition by a Twitter user against the suspension of his account by the micro-blogging platform, the central government said that social media platforms should not take down the account itself or completely suspend it in all cases.

The centre explained that a platform may give prior notice to the user and seek removal of specific information or content that violates the platform policies or the applicable Information Technology (Intermediaries guidelines) Rules and only in cases where the majority of the contents/posts/tweets in a user account are unlawful, the platform may take the extreme step of taking down the whole information or suspending the whole account.

It said that complete de-platforming is against the spirit of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India and if only some portion or content is unlawful, the platform may take proportionate action of removing such alleged information alone and not completely suspend the user account.

The central government emphasised that a significant social media intermediary must be held accountable for subjugating and supplanting fundamental rights like the right to freedom of speech and expression, else it would have "dire consequences for any democratic nation".

"The platforms must respect the fundamental rights of the citizens and should not take down the account itself or completely suspend the user account in all cases. That the taking down the whole information or the user account should be a last resort and the platform may at all times, endeavour to guard the users' fundamental rights by following the principles of natural justice and afford reasonable time and opportunity to the user to explain his stand," stated the affidavit filed by Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) through lawyer Manish Mohan.

"SSMIs must be held accountable for subjugating and supplanting fundamental rights like the right to freedom of speech and expression, otherwise the same would have dire consequences for any democratic nation. It is humbly submitted that liberty and freedom of any individual cannot be waylaid or jettisoned in the slip stream of social and technological advancement," it added.

Stating that it is the custodian of the users' fundamental rights in the cyber space, the Centre has said that a social media account can be suspended or de-platformed only in cases such as in the interest of sovereignty, security and integrity of India, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or pursuant to a court order or the content is grossly unlawful such as sexual abuse material etc.

"In all other cases, the user needs to be given a prior notice and a transparent process of natural justice including the right to approach the grievance officer of the platform and the suitable provision for appeals so as to ensure a transparent, fair process that meets all the principles of natural justice. Any complete deplatforming is against the spirit of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India that every citizen is entitled to," the affidavit said.

"In the considered view of the Answering Respondent, if only some portion or few contents are unlawful then the platform may take proportionate action of removing such alleged information alone and not completely suspend the user account," it added.

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