A petition filed by Indian review website, Mouthshut.com, in Supreme Court (the highest Indian appellate court), challenging the Indian Information Technology Rules 2011, will be heard on January 13.
The petition urges the apex court of India to declare the Rules as a violation of freedom of expression, guaranteed by the Constitution of India under Articles 14, 19 and 21.
The Rules in contention here, allow intermediaries – Internet Service Providers, Search Engines, DNS Providers, Cyber cafes and Interactive Websites like Mouthshut.com to be prosecuted for transfer and hosting of content (but not limited to) that is defamatory, harassing and grossly harmful (not limited to these three).
Many companies and individuals have used the law to their advantage, and taking websites like Mouthshut and even websites like Google and Facebook to the court of law for hosting negative reviews against their brands, services and individuals – citing that the reviews are defamatory and damaging to their businesses.
The petition was filed last year, in April 2013 by Mouthshut. The website had also sought relief from the court in many of the cases against it. The website, during a hearing in August, last year, had brought to the notice of the apex court that it had also received a fake Supreme Court notice, urging the review website to pull down a link.
As of August 27, Mouthshut, according to an Indian media website, Medianama, had received over 790 take-down notices, 240 legal notices, and had 11 court cases registered against it. All these matters pertain to reviews of products and services posted by users.
When approached by e27, Faisal Farooqui, Founder & CEO, Mouthshut.com, refused to comment on the developments, as the matter is subjudice. However, a company statement, quoted him as saying, “We are pleading with the highest court in the land to protect the rights of Indian citizens and consumers that are granted by the Constitution of India.”
Farooqui shared that Mouthshut has been threatened with hundreds of legal notices, cybercrime complaints and defamation cases. At other times, officers from various police stations have approached them “demanding deletion of various reviews or face dire consequences under the IT rules”.
Established in 2000, Mouthshut claims to have followed its own policy of taking down content only under legal coercion. However, the IT rules state that ‘any affected person’ can simply send an email to request the removal of any content within 36 hours or it (the website) can lose its ‘safe harbour’ protection as an ‘intermediary, pay damages, legal fee and court time’.
The new Rules were introduced in the Information Technology Act in 2011, making the privacy and online publishing regulations stringent, especially for business operations that handle personal data and information.
“Laws are meant to ensure the well-being of the nation – its people and institutions. Despite good intentions, IT Rules fall short of doing that. This law has the potential to weaken or worse entirely corrode the robust protection that the constitution of India offers to the freedom of speech,” expressed Farooqui.
Editor’s Note: The story has been updated since it was published first – yesterday. The tonality of the article published earlier, suggested and was bound to be misunderstood that Mouthshut had filed a fresh petition. The lapse is regretted.