Chennai: The Madras High court on Thursday issued notice to the central government, giving it three weeks to respond to a petition filed by Carnatic music vocalist TM Krishna, challenging India’s new IT rules.
“The Impugned Rules offend my right as an artist and cultural commentator by both imposing a chilling effect on free speech and by impinging on my right to privacy,” Krishna, a Magsaysay awardee, said in his petition. “Part II of the Impugned Rules violate my rights as a user of social media services while Part III of the same Impugned riles are in breach of my rights as a creator of online content.”
Part II of the rules relate to private intermediaries while Part III seeks to regulate publishers of news and current affairs content and publishers of online curated content.
This is the latest petition against The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines And Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, that came into effect in February to regulate digital publishers as well as internet and social media companies.
In May, WhatsApp filed a petition in the Delhi High Court against “traceability” requirement in IT rules that mandates messaging platforms to trace the originator of a message that leads to rumours or violence. WhatsApp argued that it violated the constitutional right to privacy. Several digital media organisations have also filed petitions against the new rules.
Suhrith Parthasarathy who appeared on behalf of Krishna argued in court that the Impugned Rules are in breach of fundamental rights under Part III of the Constitution and that the rules are also ultra vires—or beyond the legal power or authority—of its parent statute, that is the Information Technology Act, 2000.
The Ministry of Electronics and IT is the governing agency responsible for admission of the IT Act 2000 and other IT-related laws. The petition said that the processes instilled by Part III of the IR create a culture of executive oversight of online speech that is wholly inimical to the right to freedom of expression.
“The rules establish vague responsibilities on producers of online curated content that will only inevitably lead to a chilling of the creative process. Independent creators who are keen to stretch the boundaries of cultural and social acceptance will find themselves thwarted by a law that sanctions arbitrary ministerial supervision,” the petitioner claimed.
Further, it was said that in granting the Union executive the power to determine whether an expression violates the law, the Rules are in breach of the basic values that underpin free speech.
Krishna said that for artists and musicians a chilling effect on speech is especially harmful and raised concerns over censorship. He said this can quell the creative process and make it impossible for a person to think imaginatively beyond conventional boundaries and create art that is politically and socially salient.