[Breaking News] SC strikes down sec 66A of IT Act, upholds freedom of speech


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The PIL against the draconian law was filed in 2012 after two girls in Thane were arrested for posting comments critical of the Mumbai bandh in the wake of the death of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray.

NEW DELHI: In a historic verdict related to the freedom of speech on the Internet, the Supreme Court on Tuesday scrapped Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, terming it as unconstitutional.

Justices J Chelameswar and Rohinton F Nariman passing the judgement said that 66A the court cannot go by the government’s assurances that the section will not be misused as that cannot be properly implemented because governments come and go.

The court said that section 66A is vague and violative of the fundamental right to freedom of speech.

The draconian law gives the police the right to make arrests over ‘offensive' social posts. Section 66A prescribes the punishment for sending ‘offensive’ messages through computers or any other communication device such as a mobile phone or a tablet.

More importantly, a conviction under this section can attract a maximum of three years in jail.

However, while striking down Section 66A of the IT Act, the Supreme Court refused to scrap two other provisions of the Act that provide for blocking sites.

What does section 66A of the IT act actually say?

Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,—
(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or
(b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device,
(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages,
shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to three years and with fine.

Explanation.— For the purpose of this section, terms “electronic mail” and “electronic mail message” means a message or information created or transmitted or received on a computer, computer system, computer resource or communication device including attachments in text, images, audio, video and any other electronic record, which may be transmitted with the message.


The government's defence of 66A

The main defence of the government was that Section 66A of the IT Act should not be "quashed" merely because of the possibility of its "abuse".


However, the central government defended section 66A, taking the stand that the provisions in no way intended to curb the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under article 19 the Constitution, but at the same time the government could not let the enormous cyber world be left unregulated.

The SC blasts vague terms

After hearing a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of certain sections of the cyber law including a provision under which a person can be arrested for allegedly posting "offensive" contents on websites, the Supreme Court pronounced its verdict.

A bench of justices J Chelameswar and R F Nariman had on February 26 reserved its judgement after the government concluded its arguments contending that section 66A of the Information Technology Act cannot be "quashed" merely because of the possibility of its "abuse".

Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had said that the government did not want to curtail the freedom of speech and expression at all which is enshrined in the Constitution, but the vast cyber world could not be allowed to remain unregulated.


However, the Apex Court had said that terms like 'illegal', 'grossly offensive' and 'menacing character' were vague expressions and these words were likely to be misunderstood and abused.

Some of the petitions seek setting aside of section 66A of the Information Technology Act which empowers police to arrest a person for allegedly posting offensive materials on social networking sites.

The first PIL on the issue was filed in 2012 by a law student Shreya Singhal, who sought amendment in Section 66A of the Act, after two girls -- Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Shrinivasan -- were arrested in Palghar in Thane district as one of them posted a comment against the shutdown in Mumbai following Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray's death and the other 'liked' it.

The hearing saw NGOs Common Cause, People Union for Civil Liberty and individuals including self-exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen joining the challenge which saw a repeat hearing after an earlier hearing by a bench of Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice S.A. Bobde remained inconclusive.

Broadly, the contention by most of the petitioners was that section 66A was vague which gave ample scope for an arbitrary interpretation and misuse of the provision by police.

The Supreme Court had on May 16, 2013, come out with an advisory that a person, accused of posting objectionable comments on social networking sites, cannot be arrested without police getting permission from senior officers like the IG or DCP.

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IT Act was enacted in 2000 (by NDA-1) and this provision was not there. UPA inserted this provision in 2009. The provision was widely misused by various law enforcement agencies to book ordinary Indians who by no stretch of imagination could be categorized as criminals - ordinary students, professors, artists and activists.

Though SC refused to strike down two other provisions of the IT Act that provide blocking of sites which in my opinion is the right decision.

And about that tweet quoted in the article. What the hell does AFSPA have anything to do with online freedom?
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