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Madras High Court lifts ban on TikTok

FE Bureau
Madras High Court, TikTok, Supreme Court, Chinese social media app, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, ByteDance

The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court on Wednesday lifted its ban on Chinese social media app TikTok. The high court ruling comes after the Supreme Court s diktat on Monday that the court should decide on April 24 the plea by TikTok, seeking interim relief of vacating its earlier ban order. The apex court had said if the Madurai bench does not decide the plea for interim relief on Wednesday the day the matter is listed for its ban order will stand vacated.

The bench of justices N Kirubakaran and SS Sundar lifted the ban after hearing submissions made by TikTok and amicus curiae Arvind Datar. TikTok counsel Isaac Mohanlal told the court that there was technology in place to ensure that nude pictures or obscene content was not uploaded through the app.

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The company has also filed a counter affidavit to this effect while making submissions on the steps taken to counter the apprehensions raised by the court following its April 3 ban. Referring to the intermediary guidelines under the Information Technology Act, Datar said online speech is protected under Article 19 (1) of the Constitution. There cannot be a system where something which is statutorily permissible becomes judicially impermissible, he said. He submitted that banning the app was not the solution and that the rights of legitimate users must be protected.

The court, however, made it clear that it was only concerned about the protection of online users, particularly children, against cybercrime. The high court had on April 3 directed the Centre to ban the short-video mobile application, pointing out the concern that pornographic and inappropriate content was being made available through such apps. When the case went up to the apex court, it refused to stay the Madras HC order.

However, an SC bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna on Monday had said Chinese company ByteDance, which owns TikTok, can raise its grievances on April 24, before the high court.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for ByteDance, which runs TikTok, said they had been losing about Rs 4.5 crore a day and safety features of over two million subscribers are at risk. According to him, the order of the Madurai bench of the high court should be stayed as it was an ex-parte order and they were not heard on the issue.

The company had earlier informed the apex court that there were over billion downloads of the mobile app and ex-parte orders were passed by the high court. The high court had on April 3 directed the media not to telecast video clips made with TikTok.

The app allows the users to create short videos and then share them. It had asked the government if it would enact a statute on the line of the Children s Online Privacy Protection Act in the US. The high court s interim order came on a public interest litigation (PIL), which alleged that the app encouraged paedophiles and the content degraded culture and encouraged pornography.