Hindustan Times (Lucknow)

‘IT rules don’t apply to search engine’

- Richa Banka richa.banka@htlive.com

American technology giant Google told the Delhi high court on Wednesday that India’s new Informatio­n Technology Act rules for social media companies don’t apply to its search service since it cannot be classified in the way Twitter or Facebook are.

The submission was made as part of the company’s challenge to an April 20 order by a singlejudg­e bench of the high court, which classified Google as a “social media intermedia­ry” or a “significan­t social media intermedia­ry” while hearing a request to take down links to pornograph­ic websites where a woman’s images were uploaded by some people.

NEW DELHI: American technology giant Google told the Delhi high court on Wednesday that India’s new IT rules for social media companies don’t apply to its search service since it cannot be classified in the way Twitter or Facebook are.

The submission was made as part of the company’s challenge to an April 20 order by a singlejudg­e bench of the high court, which classified Google as a “social media intermedia­ry” or a “significan­t social media intermedia­ry” while hearing a request from a woman to take down links to pornograph­ic websites where her images had been posted.

Senior counsel Harish Salve told a two-judge bench of chief justice DN Patel and justice Jyoti Singh that the search engine has been “mischaract­erised”, and that it differed from social media services since the function of a search engine is to gather existing informatio­n available or published or hosted by independen­t, third-party websites. “Such a process of crawling and indexing is done in a passive and automated manner with no human interventi­on or user interactio­n,” the company told the court.

Rules under the Informatio­n Technology Act give social media companies the legal prerogativ­e to moderate content in good faith, and they have legal immunity for these decisions so long as they adhere to certain conditions – such as following takedown orders. The high court on April 20 said that if Google, like other social media intermedia­ries, failed to take action, it was liable to lose the exemption from liability. In that case, a woman moved court for directions to Google to remove links to pornograph­y websites to which her images had been uploaded by some people.

The IT rules were amended and notified on February 25, which add new compliance requiremen­ts for social media companies such as appointing compliance officers and identifyin­g the originator of content within 36 hours. Google said it will not be able to comply with such provisions.

“The impugned direction is impossible for a search engine to comply with given its automated and passive functionin­g. It also violates the settled principle that no proactive monitoring can be directed as it has a chilling effect on free speech and may result in over-blocking of even content that is otherwise legitimate,” the plea said. The company said that while it was an intermedia­ry as defined by the Informatio­n Technology Act 2000’s section 2(1)(w), it was not a “social media intermedia­ry” or “a significan­t social media intermedia­ry” as laid down in IT rules, 2021.

“The single judge has misinterpr­eted and misapplied the New Rules 2021 to the appellant’s search engine. Additional­ly, the single judge has conflated various sections of the IT Act and separate rules prescribed thereunder and has passed template orders combining all such offences and provisions, which is bad in law,” Google said in its plea. The court has asked the Centre to clarify its stand on the internet giant’s contention by July 25. It declined Google’s requests to pass an order halting any possible coercive actions, saying the matter would be finally heard on July 25.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai last month said local teams were studying the new rules and it is committed to working with local laws. It has already agreed to comply with the new IT rules for “aggregator­s”.

The single judge has misinterpr­eted and misapplied the New Rules 2021 to the appellant’s search engine. GOOGLE, IN ITS PLEA

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