In COVID times, fast-paced developments around world on role & management of intermediaries: SC

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New Delhi, Jul 8 (PTI) The Supreme Court on Thursday said there have been some “fast-paced developments” around the world in COVID-19 times on the role and management of intermediaries and a “significant development” has been the notification of new IT Rules in India.

The apex court noted that the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 introduces a range of due diligence measures to be implemented by intermediaries and lay down a code of ethics for digital news platforms in relation to digital media.

A bench headed by Justice S K Kaul said these Rules have been assailed before different high courts across the country and the issue is currently pending consideration.

The bench, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy, made the observations in its 188-page verdict dismissing a plea filed by Facebook India Vice President and MD Ajit Mohan and others challenging the summons issued by the Delhi Assembly's Peace and Harmony committee for failing to appear before it as witness in connection with the north-east Delhi riots last year.

“In COVID times there have been some fast-paced developments around the world qua the role and management of intermediaries. In view of there being some time gap between the date of reserving the judgement and its pronouncement, we consider it appropriate to pen down these developments over the last four months,” the top court said.

It noted that the UK Commons Privileges Committee published a new report on select committee powers on May 3, 2021, looking to strengthen the ability of select committees to call for persons, papers, and records.

It said that intermediaries and platforms have seen a “hot pursuit” in the US for regulating the consequences of their business and the House Energy and Commerce Committee of the US House of Representatives had issued summons to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on March 25 this year, with which they duly complied.

“The House Committee pointed out false claims about COVID-19 vaccines and the supposed election fraud that had proliferated on social media platforms,” the bench noted, adding, “The background was the incident at the Capitol post the US Presidential Election results being declared in 2021.” It noted that in India, since 2020, a Joint Parliamentary Committee has been examining the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 in relation to the issues of data protection and security and its report is stated to be in its final stages.

“A significant development has been the notification of The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 on February 25, 2021, a day after the judgment was reserved,” the bench said.

In its verdict, the apex court said that Delhi Legislative Assembly and its committee have the power to compel attendance of members and outsiders on grounds of its privilege.

While acknowledging the distribution of power, it said that though law and order and police do not fall under the legislative domain of Delhi Assembly, in the larger context the concept of peace and harmony goes much beyond that.

It said in any case, the representative of the social media giant would have the right to not answer questions directly covered by these two fields. PTI ABA PKS SJK ABA RKS RKS

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