In total, six petitions have been filed on computer rules by various media outlets such as The Quint, The Wire and Live Law; most of them arguing that the rules are vague and unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court will hear a request for the government to transfer all cases involving the 2021 rules on information technology (intermediate guidelines and code of ethics for digital media) filed by news organizations on July 16, reported Bar & Bench. In a hearing on Friday, the court refused to immediately stay the case and instead filed it with another case to be heard on July 16. The government handover request was first filed in April, but according to the Supreme Court’s website records, delayed the case until its hearing today. The Friday order has yet to be updated on the Supreme Court’s website.
Records consolidated by the government for transfer do not appear to include records filed by non-media entities; for example, Facebook or WhatsApp are not mentioned as one of nine respondents by the government on the Supreme Court’s website, indicating that the messaging platform’s petition against the traceability requirement set out in the rules will continue in the High Court from Delhi.
Which cases does the government want to transfer?
According to the Supreme Court website, the following cases against the provisions of computer rules by digital media appear to be the ones the government wants to move from various high courts to the Supreme Court.
- Foundation for Independent Journalism c. Union of India: The foundation that runs The Wire pushed Delhi’s High Court to argue that the rules are unconstitutional and that the parent legislation – the Information Technology Act, 2000 – makes no mention of online news. The petition argued that the government was overstepping its powers. The Delhi High Court is hearing the case and has associated the case with a similar petition and has so far denied an interim measure. The petitioners in this case include MK Venu and The News Minute founder and editor Dhanya Rajendran.
- Live Law Media Private Limited & ors v. Union of India & anr: In the Kerala High Court, LiveLaw argued once again that the rules were unconstitutional and placed an undue burden on trade publications like her. The petition argued that the rules were vague, excessive and intruded on privacy. He also argued that they can have a chilling effect on intermediaries, leading to more censorship. The High Court of Kerala has granted the publication protection from coercive action.
- Sanjay Kumar Singh v. Indian Union and others: At Delhi High Court, lawyer Sanjay Kumar Singh said in a petition that the IT rules were unconstitutional and should be overturned. Singh argued that the criteria for censorship in the rules were too vague and broad, and argued for judicial review in cases involving free speech. The Delhi High Court has tagged the case with petitions from The Quint and The Wire, and the case will then be heard on August 4.
- Quint Digital Media Limited & anr v. Union of India & anr: The Quint challenged the rules in March in Delhi’s High Court. The petition argued, among other things, that the rules went beyond parent legislation, that the Computer Law was not being considered to regulate news websites, and that publishers are not intermediaries. The case was closed with the above cases in the same court, and no stay was granted.
- Press Trust of India v. Union of India & anr: Although the Press Trust of India’s petition to the Delhi High Court is not mentioned on the Supreme Court’s website, the government is likely to mark it in its transfer petition; the old court linked it to the other three cases mentioned above for a more in-depth hearing.
- AGIJ Promotion Of Nineteenonea Media Pvt Ltd & anr v. Union of India & anr: In a petition to the Bombay High Court, The Leaflet, a legal publication, argued that the rules placed an undue burden on publishers, were vague, and allowed non-judicial officials to perform judicial functions. While this case has yet to be reported by the government to the Supreme Court, Bar and Bench reported that hearings in the case have been postponed due to the transfer request.
There are other challenges regarding the IT rule provisions that apply to news organizations that the government may soon label in the transfer request by the time the Supreme Court hears the case next. These include:
- Digital News Publishers Association & anr v. Union of India & anr: DNPA is an association of traditional news organizations with a digital presence. In its application to the Madras High Court, the DNPA, along with former The Hindu editor-in-chief Mukund Padmanabhan, argued that the rules infringed on constitutional rights to conduct business, freedom of expression and privacy. The court has issued a notice and the hearing is set for July 14.
- TM Krishna v. Union of india & anr: In this petition, also filed in the Madras High Court, Carnatic singer TM Krishna argued that his rights to free speech and privacy were violated by the rules. The petition was written in part by the Internet Freedom Foundation. The DNPA petition has been tagged with it, and the hearing is set for the same July 14 date.