A division bench comprising Justices Gautam Patel and Neela Gokhale said it does not comprehend the necessity for the amendments
The Bombay HC also raised questions about the accountability of the proposed Fact Checking Unit (FCU) under the amended rules
The court was hearing multiple petitions challenging the amendments to IT Rules, 2021, released in April this year, to tackle fake news
The Bombay High Court on Friday (July 14) reportedly said that the recent amendments to the Information Technology (IT) Rules, 2021 to tackle fake news on social media may be excessive.
A division bench comprising Justices Gautam Patel and Neela Gokhale said it does not comprehend the necessity for the amendments, news agency PTI reported.
The Centre introduced the amendments to IT Rules, 2021 in April this year to tackle fake news. The amendments include the provision to set up a fact-checking unit to identify and flag fake, false, or misleading online content related to the government.
Hearing multiple petitions challenging the amendments, the bench voiced concerns about granting absolute power to a single government authority to determine what qualifies as fake, false, or misleading, as per the report.
Stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra, the Editors Guild of India, and the Association of Indian Magazines filed separate petitions in the High Court, labelling the rules as arbitrary and unconstitutional. They argued that the rules could have a chilling effect on the fundamental rights of citizens.
The court said that in a democratic process, citizens have the fundamental right to question and demand answers from the government, which is duty-bound to respond.
The court also raised questions about the accountability of the proposed Fact Checking Unit (FCU) under the amended rules. Justice Patel highlighted that there is an assumption that the FCU’s determinations are the ultimate truth and called for a critical examination of the fact-checking process.
Advocate Gautam Bhatia, representing the Association of Indian Magazines, said there are less restrictive alternatives available to address the issue of fake content on social media. The bench acknowledged the need for some form of fact-checking, saying while offline content undergoes some filtration, no such mechanism currently exists for social media intermediaries.
“There should be some fact-checking. At some level, someone must fact-check the content on social media. But you (the petitioners) may be right in saying that these rules are excessive. You cannot bring a hammer to kill an ant,” the court reportedly said.
The bench also questioned the need for the amendments.”What is the concern that necessitates this amendment? What is the anxiety behind it? I still do not know,” Justice Patel said.
This is not the first time the court has questioned the needs for the amendments. Earlier this month, the HC said a law would have to be struck down if its effect is unconstitutional, irrespective of the high motives while framing the rules.
However, the Centre has stuck to its stance. In April, the government said that the fact-checking unit is necessary to counter false information on social media platforms which have the potential to fan separatist movements and intensify social and political conflicts.
The Centre also argued that Kamra’s petition was an abuse of law and it dwelled upon imaginary consequences.