Yesterday, the Supreme Court squashed Section 66A of the Information Technology Act that allowed the police to make arrests over contentious posts and offensive content on social media. The government’s point of view was that, while it did not want to curtail the freedom of speech and expression of people, cyber space could not be allowed to remain unregulated. But, while opinions and personal content cannot be persecuted, the apex court has allowed the government to block websites if their content has the potential to create communal disturbance, social disorder or affect India’s relationship with other countries.
“It is clear that Section 66A arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately invades the right of free speech and upsets the balance between such right and the reasonable restrictions that may be imposed on such right,” said a Bench of Justices J. Chelameswar and Rohinton F. Nariman. The definition of offences under the provision was “open-ended and undefined”, it said.
Shreya Singhal was the first person who filed a PIL on this issue in 2012. This law student sought amendment in Section 66A of the act after two girls — Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Shrinivasan — were arrested in Palghar after one of them posted a comment on Facebook against the shutdown in Mumbai following Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray’s death and the other one ‘liked’ it.
As reported by The Hindu, The court then went on to say that Section 66A actually had no connection with public order or with incitement to commit an offence. “The information disseminated over the Internet need not be information which ‘incites’ anybody at all. Written words may be sent that may be purely in the realm of ‘discussion’ or ‘advocacy’ of a ‘particular point of view’. Further, the mere causing of annoyance, inconvenience, danger, etc., or being grossly offensive or having a menacing character are not offences under the [Indian] Penal Code at all.”