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Supreme Court asks govt and petitioners to submit their versions of Internet regulations to find common ground

A two judge bench of the Supreme Court of India, comprising of Justice Chelameswar and Justice Bobde, today asked the Central Government and all the lawyers representing petitioners to submit guidelines regarding safeguards to be followed in case of Internet regulations. This direction followed a statement from the Government that they don’t want to take an adversarial approach in this case, and are as duty bound to protect 98% of Internet usage which is beneficial, as they are to address the 2% that is not. Tushar Mehta, Additional Solicitor General of India said that he is ready to suggest guidelines. “I’m authorized to say that we will lay down guidelines”.

To this, Justice Chelameswar said that two cases – the Bombay one and the West Bengal one have to be considered, because political expression is permissible. “To say a leader is wrong, and ideology is wrong, is permissible. If you punish people for Political speech, where does it stop? One way of looking at it,” he said, turning to KK Venugopal, representing the Internet and Mobile Association of India, “is to give chance to the government to come up with draft guidelines. Some safeguards are required.”

Venugopal responded, saying that the user has to be given a right to respond, which the government has to take into consideration. He shared a list of processes related to takedown notices (Section 79), and cited a research report which explained suggestions regarding takedowns and the challenges with various processes.

Justice Bobde said that that idea of asking counsels to suggest changes to regulations “seems to be beneficial so we can find common ground.” Mehta reiterated that the state doesn’t want to take an adversarial stand, and “I had a discussion with the highest authority, and we are ready to take pre-emptive steps so that there is no chilling effect (on free speech). If there was such a potent medium during emergency…this is a medium that can never be controlled.”

Justice Chelameswar asked the IAMAI to circulate their suggestions with counsels for other petitioners. Counsels for petitioners have to submit their suggestions regarding guidelines to the court before the 25th of December. The next hearing will be on the 13th of January 2015.

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