Centre Shocks! SC Bans Fact-Checking Unit Notification

The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the Centre’s notification regarding the establishment of a fact-checking unit (FCU) under the Press Information Bureau (PIB) tasked with identifying fake news concerning the Union government.

The Fact Check Unit, established on March 20 under the Information Technology Rules, 2021, by the Ministry of Electronics and IT, was the subject of this stay order.

A bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud overturned the March 11 decision of the Bombay High Court, which had declined to grant an interim stay on the establishment of the FCU under the amended IT Rules aimed at identifying fake and false content circulating on social media platforms concerning the Union government.

“We are of the considered view that the issues before the HC pertain to core questions regarding Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution,” the bench stated. “We are of the opinion that the notification dated March 20, 2024, following the rejection of the application for interim relief, ought to be stayed. The challenge to the validity of 3(1)(b)(5) raises significant constitutional concerns, and the impact of the rule on freedom of speech and expression must be analyzed by the high court,” the bench, also including Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, added.

Rule 3(1)(b)(v) of the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 The FCU will serve as the central government’s primary agency for addressing or providing alerts about all false news or misinformation.

The notification was issued shortly after the Bombay High Court declined to prevent the Centre from announcing the unit.

The petition was filed by stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra and the Editors Guild of India (EGI).

In April 2023, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity) introduced the 2023 Rules, which further amended the Information Technology Rules, 2021. Under the new regulations, if the fact-checking unit encounters or is informed about any posts containing “fake,” “false,” or “misleading” information related to government affairs, it will notify the social media intermediaries. The online intermediaries will then be required to remove such content if they wish to maintain their “safe harbor” status (legal immunity against third-party content).

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