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HC seeks Centre’s stand on plea for action against Google

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday sought a response from the Centre on a petition seeking action against Google for not complying with the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

Justice V Kameswar Rao also sought the stand of Google and issued notice on the petition by Rachit Kaushik who challenged the termination of his YouTube channels on the ground that the process of removal was contrary to the mandate of the rules.

The court posted the next hearing on March 30.

Senior counsel N Hooda, appearing for the petitioner, claimed that Google, which owns YouTube, removed the accounts and content of the petitioner based on artificial intelligence and without any opportunity of being heard.

“Google only responds through artificial intelligence… my fundamental right is sought to be protected in these rules and audi alteram partem is engrained in the rules before any significant social media intermediary takes any action,” he said.

The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 seek to regulate dissemination and publication of content in cyberspace, including social media platforms and were notified in February last year by the central government.

Advocate Mamta Jha, appearing for Google said that freedom of speech was not unfettered and action was taken against the petitioner for a violation of the community guidelines against hate speech.

She said the petitioner was notified about his objectionable content but he opened another channel and uploaded the hate speech again.

Counsel for the Centre sought time to state its stand on the petition.

The petitioner has stated in the petition that his two accounts, on which he used to exercise his right to freedom of speech and expression by expressing his view on the current affairs, were permanently taken down without giving any opportunity of hearing or explanation in violation of Rule 4(8) of the new IT Rules.

“In order to ensure that the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression of its citizens does not become subservient to the whims of significant social media intermediaries like Respondent No.2 (Google), the Respondent No.1 (Centre) enacted ‘IT Rules 2021’, and there they laid down certain procedures to be followed by significant social media intermediaries, before curtailing the said fundamental rights by removing videos/contents or disabling the access of citizens at such platforms,” the petition said.

“The said ‘IT Rules 2021’ sub-rule (8) of Rule 4, laid down the procedure to be followed by significant social media intermediary like Respondent No.2 for removal of video/contents. The said rule mandates that before the significant social media intermediary like Respondent No.2 removes or disables access of any user, it should intimate the user prior to such action being taken with a notification explaining the action being taken and the grounds or reasons for such action.

“However since Respondent no.2 has adopted only AI (Artificial intelligence) tool to ascertain the nature of videos, the right to freedom of speech expression have been handed over to robots,” it added.

In the petition, the petitioner has sought a direction to the central government to enact a mechanism for a time-bound redressal of grievances concerning the illegal, arbitrary, and selective removal of videos/contents or termination of user accounts/channels from a social media platform.

The petition, filed through Profix Legal, has further alleged that the appointment of the Resident Grievance officer by Google was not done in a time-bound manner and “the subsequent appointment was just an eyewash”.

It has informed that the channels were monetised and admired by millions of viewers, however, Google “at its whims and fancies censored the videos”.

The petition has thus sought a direction to Google to pay a compensation of Rs 20 lakh to the petitioner for causing damage both mental and financial to the petitioner. PTI

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