Government seeks transfer of cases challenging IT rules to Supreme Court

The central government has sought transfer of all cases challenging its recent information technology rules in different high courts to the
Supreme Court to avoid multiplicity of legal proceedings on the issue.

Several such petitions have been filed in high courts across the country, including Bombay, Delhi, Madras and Kerala. Some of these have been filed by affected parties such as journalists and digital publishers. These rules have been widely panned by critics as draconian. Among other things, they contend that these are against the right to freedom of speech and expression of citizens and envisage greater curbs on free speech than those laid down in the act.

The government’s latest IT rules brought in 2021, which are known as the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, had set a compliance deadline of May 26, 2021, for all stakeholders.

Intermediaries such as
Twitter have been at the receiving end of some of these cases where litigants have objected to Twitter not having an India-based grievance officer and not maintaining an independent India establishment. These include earlier cases filed in the top court.

Twitter is facing a case in the Delhi HC for spreading a video relating to the alleged communal harassment of an old Muslim man. The petitioner in that case claimed that it was an instance of a personal dispute and not a communal incident as a portrayed by the intermediary. An affidavit filed by the Minister of Electronics and IT in the Delhi HC contended that Twitter had failed to comply with the rules so far and would not be able to avail of the safe harbour provisions of the law. The Madras HC is also dealing with petitions filed by the digital news publishers’ association, which represents 13 media outlets, and a senior journalist.

A similar plea has been filed by Carnatic musician TM Krishna. Yet another plea in the Bombay HC was filed by a journalist.

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