The Madras High Court has issued notice to the Centre on a petition filed by Digital News Publishers Association, comprising 13 media outlets, challenging the constitutional validity of the new Information Technology (Guidelines For Intermediaries And Digital Media Ethics Code), also known as the new IT rules, according to reports.
The new IT rules mandate a three-tier oversight process for publishers of news and online curated content i.e. OTT platform. Tightening the noose around digital media players in the country, social media apps like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube would be required to take down objectionable content/posts within 36 hours of receiving a complaint from competent authorities. OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Zee5 will also face stringent scrutiny from the government as per the new guidelines.
A bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy admitted the plea and tagged along with another plea by noted Carnatic musician, T M Krishna which was filed earlier in the month.
The court also granted interim relief for the association, allowing it to approach the court if any coercive or arm twisting action is taken under the rules, particularly under provisions 12,14 and 16 of the rules, according to an IANS report.
Senior advocate PS Raman, appearing for the petitioner, contended that two provisions of the rules were creating major problems for the digital news platforms. He said that in particular Rule 16 is an omnibus provision that gives power to the Secretary of the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to block public access to any digital information. He sought that the court pass an interim order restraining the Information and Broadcasting Ministry from taking any action under the rules pending disposal of the plea.
The bench refused to grant any interim order staying the operation of the rule as no adverse action has been initiated against the petitioner as of now.
PIL Against WhatsApp
Meanwhile, a different petition was admitted with the Kerala High Court on Wednesday seeking to ban the operations of messaging platform WhatsApp if it continues to deviate from the orders of the legal authorities in the country.
According to a report by LiveLaw, petitioner Omanakuttan K G, a software engineer, moved the Court citing national and public interest, alleging that WhatsApp did not function in accordance with the Information Technology Intermediary guidelines and Digital Media Ethic Code Rules, 2021.
The public interest litigation (PIL) stated that the app lacks security and has been exposed to several bugs and errors over time. A layman can manipulate any message or media received by them and circulate it to cause unrest in the society. It further claimed that such instances provide opportunities for “anti-national elements” to send and retrieve information. Further, due to WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption, it is impossible to trace the origin of such messages, stated the PIL.
Separately, Facebook-owned messaging platform WhatsApp has taken the Indian government to the Delhi high court over the IT rules which call for traceability of all messages sent on the app. Another platform Twitter had earlier raised concerns about how the new IT rules could be a threat to freedom of speech in India.
The new IT rules continue to run into opposition from various sections of the digital ecosystem even as the government has been putting pressure on platforms to follow the rules. In March, online news media ‘The Wire’ approached the Delhi High Court, followed by ‘The Quint’. The Kerala High Court has granted interim protection from coercive action under Part III of the rules to ‘LiveLaw’ in a petition filed by it against the Rules. Kannada news portal ‘Pratidhwani’ has approached the Karnataka High Court against the rules.
As reported earlier, government legal advisers had informed Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led cabinet that some clauses in India’s new IT rules were beyond the scope of existing law and required parliamentary approval, which was circumvented in passing of the controversial new IT rules, 2021.