IT rules: HC asks Centre to reply to FB, WhatsApp pleas

Delhi High Court asks Centre to respond to pleas by Facebook, WhatsApp challenging IT rules

The pleas have challenged the new rules on the grounds that they violate the right to privacy and are unconstitutional

The court listed the matter for further hearing on October 22. Credit: AFP Photo

The Delhi High Court on Friday issued notice to the Centre on a plea by Facebook-owned WhatsApp against the validity of new Information Technology Rules forcing it to trace origin of messages sent on its service. 

The mobile messaging application with about 53 crore users here claimed new rules would break the right to privacy and end-to-end encryption on its service. 

A bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh sought a response from the Union government on the petition filed by the company against the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 which came into effect on May 25.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for WhatsApp, objected to a letter for adjournment circulated on behalf of the Union government. He said last time too, the matter got adjourned on a request by the Centre.

"We are not asking for an interim order. Let notice be issued. It is a very serious issue raised in relation to validity of IT Rules," he said.

The court issued a notice seeking a response from the Centre and posted the matter for consideration on October 22.

Also read: Delhi HC to hear appeals of Facebook, WhatsApp in privacy policy matter in October

In its plea, the company questioned criminal liability enforced upon its employees on failure to "trace" the origin of messages sent on the service, on an order by court or the government.

"Identification of the first originator of a message under the new rules infringed upon the fundamental rights to privacy and free speech of the hundreds of millions of citizens using WhatsApp to communicate privately and securely," its petition said.

WhatsApp claimed it "enables government officials, law enforcement, journalists, members of ethnic or religious groups, scholars, teachers, students, and the like to exercise their right to freedom of speech and expression without fear of retaliation." 

The company sought a direction of the court to declare Rule 4(2) of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, as unconstitutional and ultra vires of the IT Act, 2000, for violating the fundamental rights to equality, freedom of speech and carry on occupation. It relied upon the landmark ruling by apex court's nine-judge bench in the right to privacy case (K S Puttaswamy) among others to support its plea.

Notably, the Union government has already approached the top court for transferring to itself similar pleas filed in different High Courts to prevent overlapping of orders. The top court, which agreed to consider the Centre's plea, refrained from asking the High Courts not to consider pending matters.

Check out latest videos from DH:

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox