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Supreme Court strikes down Section 66A of IT Act that contravenes freedom of speech

The Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act stating that it violates the Article 19(1) of the Constitution that guarantees freedom of speech.  Supreme Court ordered so by stating that “draconian” provision which led to the arrests of many persons for posting contents on the Internet, which was deemed to be “allegedly objectionable”.

Section 66A reads: “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.”

The Bench of Justices J. Chelameswar and Rohinton F. Nariman said that section 66A arbitrarily and disproportionately invades the right of free speech and it also upsets the balance between the right and reasonable restrictions which is imposed on such right.

The challenge before the court had commenced when 2 girls Shaheen Dhanda and Rinu Shrinivasan were arrested for posting comments on Mumbai Bandh in the wake of death of Shiv Sena head Bal Thackeray and thus Shreya Singhal a law student had challenged the constitutional validity of this section. This hearing included NGO’s like Common Cause, People’s Union for Civil Liberty, Bangladesh writer Taslima Nasreen and businessman who joined the challenge.

Victim’s father contended that 66A must be abrogated since many people had fallen prey to this section and it was being misused.

Central Government defended the section by stating that the provisions does not curb the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19 of the constitution but the cyber world could not be left unregulated.

The Court while pronouncing judgment said that the liberty of thought and expression was of paramount significance under the constitution of India. The court said: “Every expression used is nebulous in meaning. What may be offensive to one may not be offensive to another. What may cause annoyance or inconvenience to one may not cause annoyance or inconvenience to another.”

by Sushma Javare.