The Kerala High Court on Wednesday (March 10) issued a notice to the Centre on a plea challenging the constitutional validity of the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.
The petitioner, Live Law Media Private Limited, argued that the rules were beyond the ambit of the Information Technology Act, 2000, and in clear violation of Articles 14, 19(1) (a), 19(1) (g) and 21 of the Constitution of India.
Justice P V Asha passed an interim order asking the Union government to not take any coercive action against petitioners with reference to provisions contained in Part III of the IT Rules.
Live Law Media Private Limited has raised questions about Part II and III of the Information Technology Rules, 2021.
“Part III of the impugned Rules impermissibly extends the scope of the IT Act to publishers of online news, current affairs, and online curated content, and is thus ultra vires the parent statute, which does not contemplate the regulation of Digital News Media,” the petitioner stated in the HC.
The petitioner expressed fear that the new rules make the executive both the complainant and the judge on questions involving free speech, blocking and taking down of online content. “This is arbitrary and violates the rule of law and separation of powers, especially since there is no provision for the aggrieved publishers to appeal against the decision of the Inter-Departmental Committee, consisting only of members of the executive,” the petitioner said.
The petitioner further said that Part III of the IT Rules 2021 “imposes a disproportionately onerous set of administrative regulations upon Digital News Media”, which will make it extremely difficult for small- or medium-sized publishers to survive. It also termed the Code of Ethics laid down under Part III as “vague and overbroad in its formulation”.