MouthShut.com approaches Supreme Court to safeguard
freedom of expression
Monday, April 29 2013
MouthShut.com, India's leading online community for consumer reviews has filed a Writ Petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India before the Hon’ble Supreme Court, inter-alia for quashing the Information Technology Rules (Intermediaries Guidelines), 2011 and declaring them violative of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India. "We are pleading with the highest court in the land to protect the rights of Indian citizens, consumers that are granted by the Constitution of India," said Faisal Farooqui, the Chief Executive Officer of MouthShut.com.
MouthShut.com provides consumers the ability to write reviews on any product or service offered in India. Several lakh reviews have been written over the last decade and they are made available free of cost to everyone. MouthShut.com is a very popular and highly trusted destination for consumers who wish to better inform themselves before making purchasing decisions. The feedback also allows businesses to learn from consumer experience and improve the quality of their offerings.
According to Farooqui, "a very small percentage of companies wish that negative reviews about them would simply go away. Under the guise of ‘harmful speech’ they approach us to remove such reviews. The new law is vague and would require MouthShut.com to remove any negative review about a company or brand simply because they don't like it, irrespective of the facts stated in the review." Farooqui adds, "We have been threatened with hundreds of legal notices, cybercrime complaints and defamation cases. At other times, officers from various police stations call our office, demanding deletion of various reviews or face dire consequences under the IT rules" Farooqui asserts that MouthShut.com "investigates every complaint and has a policy of not removing a review simply because someone doesn't like it. The challenged rules take away our ability to stand up to such demands."
The petition pleads to the Hon’ble Supreme Court that the IT Rules, 2011 should be struck down because they are so vague that it cannot be predicted with certainty as to what is prohibited and what is permitted. A consequence of this law would be the delegation of essential executive function to private parties like MouthShut.com to censor and restrict free speech of citizens or else face legal challenge for user’s content.
It is a privilege to be a citizen of a democracy like India where an ordinary citizen can appeal to a powerful court," said Farooqui. "Laws are meant to ensure the well-being of the nation – its people and institutions. Despite good intentions, IT Rules fall short of doing that. This law has the potential to weaken or, worse, entirely corrode the robust protection that the constitution of India offers to the freedom of speech."
"The Internet simply changes the mode of communication," said Farooqui. "It does not alter the fundamental fact that behind those reviews are the views of Indian citizens who have previously been expressing themselves freely in face-to-face meetings, articles in newspapers, newsletters and magazines and other public forums. Curbing that right as applied to online reviews or attaching strings to it is a disservice to the right of self expression guaranteed by the Constitution."
Senior advocate Mr. Harish Salve appeared for MouthShut.com on the brief filed by M/s Lawyer’s Knit & Co.
Founded in 2000, MouthShut.com is India’s first and largest online community for consumer feedback on products and services. Several lakh reviews have been published over the past decade via online feedback, SMS or video, and they are made available free of cost to everyone. MouthShut.com is a very popular and highly trusted destination for consumers who wish to better inform themselves before making purchasing decisions.
Besides offering consumers a free platform to express their opinions or benefit from the opinions of others, MouthShut.com also has several programs for businesses and brands that wish to benefit from the large repository of reviews to improve their products, service and brand reputation.
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