The Madras High Court on Thursday notified the Indian government to appear as respondent against a petition filed by Chennai based Karnatic vocalist and public figure TM Krishna on an alleged unconstitutional nature of the newly ratified Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital media Ethics Code) Rules 2021.
Labelling the new regulation as that which harms a citizen’s freedom of expression as well as right to privacy, features protected by the Indian constitution, Krishna said that the new rules are vague and indeterminate and will thwart artists from raising difficult questions against existing aesthetic, gender and caste hierarchies in Karnatic music, and will thwart dissenters who question prevailing culture mores.
“A reading of the code of ethics contained in the impugned rules makes it impossible to glean what will be considered by the union government as acceptable speech in the online world. In any event, it is submitted that determining what is acceptable isn’t the sole prerogative of the government. It is a role that ought to be fashioned with the constitutional scheme, which the rules manifestly fail to do,” the petitioner’s affidavit said.
The new rules, the petitioner said, vest private intermediaries with excessive power in shaping what speech is permitted and what speech is not. In the face of criminal liability, with business concerns in mind, these private bodies will inevitably compromise values inherent in the idea of freedom of speech and expression, he added.
The petition further elaborated scenarios on the possible dangers of auto-deletion tools employed over social media content, and raised multiple questions linked to right to privacy on message traceability mandated upon services such as WhatsApp.
Late May, the central government ratified the new rules, impacting a variety of businesses with India based userbases, from technology giants, social media companies and video streaming services to digital news publishers.
Advocates representing Krishna on the petition were Arun Karthik Mohan, Suhrith Parthasarathy, Surasika Parthasarathy, Ashwini Vaidialingam, and Amritha Sathyajith.
The HC bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy notified Assistant Solicitor-General Rajesh Vivekananthan to file a counter-affidavit representing the government within three weeks from Thursday. The bench then listed the matter for hearing on July 8.