The Centre Monday asserted in the Supreme Court its power to issue “take down” notices to Internet service providers, describing it to be a “reasonable restriction” on the Fundamental Right to Speech and Expression and a necessary safeguard against those being defamed online. Take down notices ask a service provider to acknowledge contentious content within 36 hours and remove it within a month.
Pointing out that foreign Internet platforms like Google and Facebook are always reluctant to comply with the directives on blocking objectionable online content and addressing such complaints, the government said that challenge to its authority in fact demonstrated the service providers’ “scant regard towards social responsibility.”
In its affidavit which will be taken up by Tuesday, the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology stated that the Information Technology Act provision empowering the government to issue take down notices expected intermediary to be “socially responsible and proactive while discharging their functions.”
The Ministry was replying to a court notice on a petition by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), which has sought quashing of Section 79(3)(b) of the Act. The petition claimed that this provision led to unilateral and arbitrary orders from the government to service providers for removing “objectionable” content created and posted by third parties on websites.
The court is hearing IAMAI’s petition along with another petitions wherein validity of Section 66A of the Act has also been challenged. Section 66A prescribes provision for arrest and jail term for transmitting offensive content online. IAMAI had also filed an application to stay the operation of the IT Act.
Responding, the Centre contended that IAMAI, which has Google, Facebook, Ebay, Yahoo, Sify etc as its members, did not want to indulge even in reasonable diligence and was only catering to commercial interests of its members.
Identifying Section 79 (3)(b) as the provision that accorded “limited immunity” to the service providers as against the “absolute immunity” provided under another IT Act provision, the affidavit stated that companies were not left without any remedy and that they could approach Grievance Officers if they wished to challenge the take down notices.