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Supreme Court issues notice to Twitter India’s former head over fresh appeal in Ghaziabad case

Appealing against an earlier ruling, the UP government sought to rake up the case on the grounds of court jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court has sought a response from Twitter employee Manish Maheshwari on an appeal by the Uttar Pradesh government against a Karnataka High Court judgement that quashed a notice related to a police investigation of content posted on Twitter.

According to the Press Trust of India (PTI), a bench headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana took note of the submissions made by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta. “We issue notice. We need to hear the case,” the bench comprising justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli said.

In July, the Karnataka High Court quashed a UP Police notice issued under Sec 41 A that mandated Maheshwari to appear before it regarding a case. The said notice empowered the police to arrest Maheshwari if deemed that he was uncooperative. Over a month, the Karnataka High Court heard the petition filed by Maheshwari seeking relief from the Uttar Pradesh police which had served two notices to the former over content that was uploaded on Twitter.

Background: The content in question is a viral video of an elderly Muslim man who was attacked in Ghaziabad’s Loni district on June 5. While many took to social media to say that the attack was communal in nature, the Ghaziabad Police claimed that it was not, and it urged Twitter to take down such content. Following that, the Loni Border Police registered an FIR against a few people who uploaded the video and also, against Twitter Inc and Twitter India for allegedly failing to take down the content despite a ‘clarification’ issued by Ghaziabad Police. It is in this regard that the police sent two notices to Twitter India’s Manish Maheshwari, under Section 160 of the CRPC and Section 41 A respectively, urging him to appear in person at the police station for investigation purposes.

This renewed spotlight on the Ghaziabad case and accusations against Maheshwari doesn’t bode well for the Twitter employee who was recently transferred to a plum posting in the company’s US office. It also hints at another protracted legal battle involving Twitter and its executive.

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Issues raised regarding maintainability of the case

“There’s a question of law that needs your lordships’ examination. For the time being ignore the fact the reason why the summon was issued. It was a 41A notice, so there’s no question of arrest etc. The question is the territorial juridiction of the High Court (Karnataka),” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta was quoted by Live Law as saying.

Earlier during the hearing at the Karnataka High Court, UP government’s counsel Prasanna Kumar had raised the issue of maintainability of the writ petition citing lack of jurisdiction. Kumar had said that just because the notice was served at a place, does not mean that the jurisdiction will be at a particular place.

In his judgement, Justice G Narender of the Karnataka High Court had criticsed the UP counsel for bringing up the maintainability issue. “It is not only the failure to secure information from public authorities (Twitter master data), but also the ominous silence maintained by the police in regards to the merit of the matter. UP Police attempted to coax the court to reject the petition on grounds of jurisdiction,” Narender had said.

A look into the Karnataka HC judgement

The order dictated by Justice G Narender said that Sec 41 A cannot be used as “tools of harassment” and maintained that the UP Police did not meet the obligations necessary for them to issue a notice under the same section. Justice Narender added, “It is not in doubt that the very impugned notice itself threatens actions and violation of liberty, which is a fundamental right”.

  • Invocation of Sec 41 notice to Maheshwari (that gives police powers to arrest him if they deem he is not cooperating) was beyond the jurisdiction as Maheshwari does not meet the provisions necessary for the application of the notice. The judge deemed the notice as mala fide.
  • The Sec 41 A notice is quashed and is to be treated as Sec 160 CRPC notice, and the order directed UP Police to take Maheshwari’s statements if necessary over video conference.
  • Justice Narender observed that Twitter India is an independent entity controlled by Ireland-based Twitter International Company and Twitter Netherlands. He also said that Twitter India has no control over the content on the social media platform. The content, the Court noted, was controlled by Twitter Inc, which is based in the USA.

What exactly does Sec 41 A entail?

Earlier, while appearing for Maheshwari, senior advocate CV Nagesh had told the High Court that Maheshwari was not the managing director as claimed by the UP Police, and he had no role to play in the circulation of the video. Nagesh had said that Maheshwari was an employee for Twitter India Communications Private Ltd’s Marketing and Sales department, and he was not in a position to travel to Ghaziabad from Bengaluru.

Nagesh’s submissions

  • Maheshwari had responded to the initial notice under Sec 160 that was sent by the Loni Border Police Station on June 17.
  • In his response, he said that although he was in no way responsible for the videos of the Ghaziabad assault on the platform, he would comply with the notice and requested the Loni Border police station to conduct the summons virtually over a video call.
  • UP Police issued the Sec 41A notice in response to Maheshwari’s reply, which Nagesh had objected to in the court.

This is what Sec 41A says —

  • A police officer in the notice can ask someone “against whom a reasonable complaint has been made, or credible information has been received, or a reasonable suspicion exists” to appear before him/her in relation to a case.
  • The person who has been served the notice cannot be arrested unless the police officer deems that the former should be.
  • If the person fails to comply with the terms of the notice, or willing to identify himself, the police officer may approach a court to issue arrest orders against the person for the offence mentioned in the notice.

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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