New IT Rules: SC gives petitioner a week’s time to study it

For verification whether it addresses the issue of communally sensitive content posted on social media platforms

July 12, 2021 03:07 pm | Updated 08:30 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A view of Supreme Court of India in New Delhi. File

A view of Supreme Court of India in New Delhi. File

The Supreme Court on Monday gave a week’s time for a petitioner to study the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules of 2021 to verify whether it addresses the issue of communally sensitive content posted on social media platforms.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana even suggested that the petitioner, advocate Khaja Aijazuddin, could approach the government.

Mr. Aijazuddin said he had moved the apex court on the suggestion of the Telangana High Court. He sought directions to the government to restrain social media platforms from carrying Islamophobic content on their timelines and to direct a CBI or NIA probe against Twitter and its users involved in putting out “inflammatory posts”. The petition referred to how “massive publicity was given by the media that many of the positive cases of symptoms of coronavirus were found from Tablighi Jamaat at Nizamuddin in Delhi”.

The petition contended “there was a massive trending of tweets on Twitter attaching the Muslim religion to the cause of spread of coronavirus”. He said he was “aggrieved with trending on Twitter under the name and styled #Islamiccoronavirusjihad, etc”. It amounted to promoting hatred against a particular religion, which is a criminal offence both under the Indian Penal Code and the Information Technology Act of 2000.

‘Frame specific guidelines’

The petition, filed in May, asked the court to direct the government to frame specific guidelines under the Information Technology Act of 2000 about “hate messages against any religious community including Islamophobic posts on various social media platforms”.

The Bench, also comprising Justice A.S. Bopanna, addressed Mr. Aijazuddin, “Have you not examined the recent IT Rules... it takes care of this...”

The petitioner, however, argued that the Rules did not “consider religion but only defamatory content”.

The CJI said, “Have you read the latest Rules? Please do your homework and come... list after a week”.

The new Rules was notified on February 25 under the Information Technology Act of 2000. It regulates social intermediaries, content on digital media and addresses cyber-crime. It comes in place of the Information Technology (Intermediate Guidelines) Rules of 2011.

Already, the different aspects of the new Rules are under judicial scanner. The government has recently moved the apex court to transfer the cases pending against it from various High Courts to it. On July 9, a Bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and Sanjiv Khanna tagged the government’s transfer plea to a pending special leave petition titled ‘Justice for Rights Foundation versus Union of India’. The Justice Khanwilkar Bench had said the case would be listed before an appropriate Bench on July 16.

The government's transfer petition is likely to come up before a Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud on July 16. The ‘Justice for Rights Foundation’ case is pending before Justice this Bench and primarily concerns the regulation of content shown on over-the-top (OTT) platforms. This Bench has been examining the issue in the backdrop of the new IT Rules. On March 23 this year, the Bench had stayed all proceedings in High Courts regarding the issue.

The government has, however, maintained in the apex court that the IT Rules provide a “comprehensive” mechanism to check content on the OTT platforms. The Ministry said in a recent affidavit that the Rules was based on a globally recognised model.

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