Plea filed in Bombay High Court against new IT Rules

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A petition has been filed before the Bombay High Court challenging the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules for violating the fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution.

A petition was filed by legal news website The Leaflet and former journalist c, contending that the new IT Rules are contrary to the provisions of law including Article 14 (equality before the law), Articles 19 (1) (a) (to freedom of speech and expression), 19 (1) (g) (to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business).

The Ministry notified the IT Rules on February 25, 2021. The next day, a representation was made that said the Rules are unconstitutional and ultravires the IT Act and requested a meaningful consultation be held with the stakeholders.

It is being challenged on the grounds that the Rules seek to impose unreasonable, excessive and tenuous burdens on digital news publishers and they are also exceedingly vague, purport to bring digital publishers of news and current affairs content under the purview of Press Council of India Act, 1978 and the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 without amending the said legislations.

The Rules enable exercise of judicial functions by non-judicial authorities, thereby violating the doctrine of separation of powers. Furthermore, the said Rules create a mechanism by which the content distribution networks operated by intermediary technology platforms, on which many digital news publishers rely on to reach their audiences, are subject to stringent takedown mechanisms and censorship obligations based on vague criterion.

Hence, it directly affects the freedom of speech and freedom of trade of digital news publishers, the plea said.

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