Regulators

Bombay HC stays parts of new IT rules

The new IT rules came into effect on 25 May.

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New Delhi: The Bombay high court has granted an interim stay to the implementation of parts of the Information Technology (IT) Rules, 2021 which require that all online publishers follow a "code of ethics" and norms of conduct.

According to the court, "prima facie" (on the face of it), sub-clauses 1 and 3 of clause 9 of the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules, 2021 violated the petitioners’ constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19. Provisions of clause 9 also went beyond the scope of the substantive law (the Information Technology Act of 2000), it added further, according to PTI.

The court was hearing two petitions filed by digital news portal `The Leaflet' and journalist Nikhil Wagle which had challenged the new regulations notified by the government in February this year. According to the petitions, the new rules are "vague", "draconian", and bound to have a "chilling effect" on the freedom of press and right to free speech guaranteed by the Constitution. The petitioners had also contended that the rules “go beyond the parameters set by the Information Technology Act and limits set under Article 19 of the Constitution”, and sought an interim stay on the implementation of the new IT Rules till the court gives its final decision in the matter.

Meanwhile, the high court has refused to stay clause 14 that pertains to the setting up of an inter-ministerial committee with powers to regulate online content and deal with grievances and breach of rules, and clause 16 which is about blocking of online content in case of an emergency.

The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 seek to regulate dissemination and publication of content in cyber space, including social media platforms. The rules notified in February, also recommend a three-tier mechanism for the regulation of all online media. Under the rules, the digital publishers are required to take urgent steps for appointing a grievance officer, if not done, and place all relevant details in the public domain. They also need to constitute self-regulatory bodies through mutual consultation so that the grievances are addressed at the level of publishers or the self-regulating bodies themselves.

It is significant to note that similar petitions opposing the new rules have been filed in high courts across the country.

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