Freedom of Speech Online: Section 66A pulled down by Supreme Court

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| Tuesday, March 24, 2015 - 14:27
First Published |

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday scrapped out a controversial law seen as a big violation of the freedom of speech online as it allowed the arrest of a person for posting offensive content. Introduced in 2000, Section 66A of the Information Technology Act has been declared as ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘untenable’ by the law. 

As they explained the law as ‘vague in its entirety’, the judges at the apex court said, it encroached upon ‘the public’s right to know’.

The debatable law was first challenged by a law student Shreya Singhal following the arrest of two young women Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Shrinivasan in 2012 for posting critical comments over total shutdown in Mumbai after the death of Shiv Sena Chief Bal Thackeray. The young girl then demanded amendments in the Section 66A of the Act.

The group that challenged the law in the Supreme Court further extended and included the NGO Common Cause and Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen.

The former ruling government (Congress) stood in favour of the law as they believed it was important to combat abuse and defamation on the internet. The new BJP government as well shielded the law in court.

On the other hand, critics of the law stated that the rule was being misused by the political parties to attack their opponents and dissidence. For instance, a professor was arrested in West Bengal for posting a cartoon of its Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in 2012.

According to Section 66A, “Any person who sends by any means of a computer resource any information that is grossly offensive or has a menacing character; or any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.”

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