The Union government has cited national security concerns to deny a Right to Information request seeking details of last month's notice sent to Twitter directing it to block certain tweets. It said its notice was empowered by a legal provision allowing information to be blocked if it harmed the country’s sovereignty, defence, foreign affairs or public order.
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In response to an April 23 notice from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), Twitter blocked 50-odd tweets on the Modi government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, including tweets by a West Bengal Minister, Congress leaders, and a film maker.
Bihar-based RTI activist Kanhaiya Kumar filed an RTI application three days later, asking about the legal provisions under which the tweets were blocked. In its response on Wednesday, the MeitY said that Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2009 empowered the government to block information from public access in the interest of the country’s sovereignty, integrity, defence, security, friendly relations with foreign States, public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence relating to the above.
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Mr. Kumar asked for a copy of the notice sent to Twitter and sought details of the Twitter handles, specific tweets and the total number of posts for which action was sought via the notice sent to Twitter. He sought a copy of all correspondence between Twitter and the government on the matter, a copy of the action taken report submitted by Twitter in response to the notice, and a copy of all file notings related to the issue. He further asked for information on whether a similar notice directing blocking of posts was sent to other social media platforms.
The MeitY refused to provide any information in response to these questions, saying that as Section 69A of the IT Act and its matters “are related to National Security, sovereignty and integrity”, it attracted the provisions of Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act. This clause allows for the exemption of “information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence.”
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The Ministry also said that under the Rules of the IT Act, “strict confidentiality shall be maintained regarding all the requests and complaints received and actions taken thereof.
The Ministry response comes even as Twitter continues to defy the Centre’s latest notice to remove its “manipulated media” tag from BJP leaders’ tweets referring an alleged “Congress toolkit” on the government’s handling of the pandemic.