Madras HC issues notice to Centre on new IT rules

PTI Chennai | Updated on June 23, 2021

Petitioner Digital News Publishers Association challenged the constitutional validity of the Information Technology rules 2021

The Madras High Court on Wednesday issued notice to the Centre over a plea challenging the constitutional validity of the new IT rules.

The first bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy directed issuing the notice on a plea by the Digital News Publishers Association, comprising 13 outlets which challenged the constitutional validity of the Information Technology rules 2021.

Admitting the plea, the bench tagged it with an earlier petition moved by well-known Carnatic musician TM Krishna over the issue earlier.

The court also allowed the petitioners to approach it if any coercive and arm-twisting action is taken under the new rules.

Senior advocate P S Raman, appearing for the petitioners, objected to certain provisions in the rules.

Rule 16

Rule 16 is an omnibus provision giving power to the secretary to the Union ministry of Information and Broadcasting to block public access to any digital information.

He sought an interim order restraining the Centre from taking any action under the rules pending disposal of the plea.

However, the bench said there was no need for an interim order at this stage since no coercive action has been taken against the media outlets so far.

"Since no adverse action has been initiated against the petitioners as of now, no omnibus order made at this stage. However if such provisions are resorted to against the petitioners, petitioners will be at liberty to apply for interim relief," the court said.

According to the petitioners, Part II of the IT Rules, 2021 (Due diligence by intermediaries and grievance redressal mechanism) is anti-ethical to fundamental rights.

By these provisions, private intermediaries are vested with excessive power in shaping the discourse of speech in the country.

The stringent timelines forced under Part II incentivise intermediaries to over-censor content, thereby curbing free speech, the petitioners contended.

They submitted the new IT Rules seek to regulate the conduct of entities that do not even come under the ambit of the Information Technology Act, 2000.

The IT Rules, 2021 seek to curb freedom of speech and expression, as well as the freedom of the press by proscribing content based on vague and subjective grounds, which have already been struck down by the Supreme Court, they added.

Published on June 23, 2021

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