Monday, June 17, 2024

Govt tells Bombay HC fact check unit won’t be notified till July 5

The Union government on Thursday informed the Bombay High Court that it will not notify the formation of the fact-checking body until July 5, authorised under the Information Technology Rules to identify and tag what it considers false or fake online news with respect to any activity of the government.

The statement was made before a division bench of Justices GS Patel and Neela Gokhale in response to a plea by stand-up comic Kunal Kamra challenging the recent amendments to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (IT Rules 2021).

Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh and advocates Aditya Thakker and DP Singh appeared for the Union government.

The plea is now listed for hearing on June 8.

According to Internet Freedom Foundation, Kamra challenged the constitutional validity of the IT Amendment Rules, 2023 before the Bombay HC on the following grounds: Firstly, the rules violate Sec. 79 of the IT Act, 2000 and Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, which requires any revocation of safe harbour for intermediaries to conform to subject matters laid down in Article 19(2). Secondly, they infringe on the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a), as they fail to define “fake or false or misleading” and  “any business of the Central Government”. Vague and overbroad laws like this create a chilling effect on free speech.

Thirdly, the rules do not satisfy reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(2) and fail to meet the proportionality test. Finally, the rules also infringe on the right to practice one’s trade or profession under Article 19(1)(g) by subjecting the creations of political satirists and comedians to a biased “fact check” unit, which could result in the deactivation or suspension of their social media accounts.

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