NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court on Thursday issued notice to the Centre on a fresh petition against certain provisions of the IT Rules 2021 that claimed they give excessive power to social media platforms to voluntarily remove content and place users under constant surveillance.
A Bench of Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh also asked the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity) to reply to the petition filed by advocate Uday Bedi by September 13, the next date of hearing.
Mr. Bedi has challenged Rules 3 and 4 of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, brought into force from February 25, 2021.
“The Rules have been made in gross disregard of the fundamental rights of the petitioner, guaranteed under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India, 1950, who is a user of Social Media Intermediaries (SMIs) such as WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter etc.,” the petition said.
Mr. Bedi contended that the rules have given private SMIs the power to entertain and act upon complaints received by private persons, as well as on a voluntary basis to delete access to any information available on their platform if the conditions prescribed in Rule 3(1)(b) and 3(1)(d) are met.
This, the petition stated, was against the judgment of the Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India case, in which it was held that intermediaries cannot be given the power to judge as to which requests for taking down any information are legitimate and which are not.
“While giving powers in excess of those given under the parent legislation (IT Act) to voluntarily remove access to information that does not conform to Rule 3(1)(b), the Impugned Rules have allowed the SMIs to place the users of these platforms under constant surveillance, which is a gross breach of the right to privacy,” the plea said.
It added that the rules also are unclear on the basis and mechanism by which the social media platforms can voluntarily take action “without peeping into all conversations that take place over the SMI platform”.
“Communications over WhatsApp are end-to-end encrypted, meaning that only the two users communicating with each other can view the messages and no other third party has access to the same. In order to voluntarily act under the Impugned Rules, it would empower WhatsApp to constantly watch all communications taking place on the platform,” the plea highlighted.
The High Court is seized of several other petitions in connection with the new IT Rules filed by different online news platforms and individuals.