The Central government on Thursday told the Bombay High Court that the fact-checking unit, under the Information Technology Rules, will not be notified by the government until July 5.
The fact-checking unit is empowered under the Information Technology Rules to tag what it considers fake news online concerning any activity of the Central government.
The Union government notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2023 (IT Rules) on April 6. This is the second amendment to the original IT Rules notified in February 2021, which was earlier amended on October 28, 2022.
A division bench of Justices GS Patel and Neela Gokhale was hearing the plea by stand-up comic Kunal Kamra challenging the amendments to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (IT Rules 2021).
The matter is now listed on June 8.
Kunal Kamra, in collaboration with the Internet Freedom Foundation, had moved the court challenging the constitutionality of the fact-checking unit.
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He alleged that the new IT Rules could lead to his content, which is mostly political satire, being arbitrarily blocked or his social media accounts being suspended or deactivated. This would harm him professionally, he said.
Kamra also argued that the content flagged by the fact check unit will force the telecom service providers and social media intermediaries to take action against such content. If they do not do this, they would lose the safe harbour protection under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act.
Meanwhile, the Union government, in its affidavit filed last week, had said that the fact-checking unit may only identify fake or false or misleading information and not any opinion, satire or artistic impression. “Therefore, the aim of the government regarding the introduction of the impugned provision is explicitly clear and suffers from no purported arbitrariness or unreasonableness as alleged by the petitioner (Kamra),” the Centre’s affidavit had said.
The division bench had said that the rules did not seem to offer protection to fair criticism of the government like parody and satire.
The court on Monday said Kamra’s plea challenging the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (IT Rules 2021) amendment was maintainable.