New Delhi,Amrita Madhukalya: Scraps Section in IT Act that allowed arresting people making 'offensive' posts. Post, tweet and draw. No one can harm you.
In a landmark judgment on Tuesday, the Supreme Court quashed Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000, which clamped down on freedom of speech and allowed the State to arrest people posting "offensive content".
The new judgment means, now on, no one will now be arrested for a Facebook post, tweet or cartoon.
The court also quashed Section 118(D) of the Kerala Police Act, a similar Act that enabled the state to arrest people.
The petition against Section 66 A was first filed by 23-year-old Shreya Singhal, after two girls from Palghar were arrested in 2012 when one of them made a Facebook post on a bandh called after the death of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray, and the other liked it.
Seven other petitions, including those by People's Union for Civil Liberties, Mouthshut.com and the Internet and Mobile Association of India followed and the SC clubbed these together.
The SC observed that the petitions against the Section "raise very important and far-reaching questions relatable primarily to the fundamental right of free speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India."
What did the SC observe?
A bench comprising Justices J Chelameswar and Rohinton F Nariman described the wordings in the Section "open-ended, undefined and vague." It then struck down the Section in its entirety, calling it unconstitutional and "violative of Article 19(1) (a) and not saved under Article 19(2)".
Can one get posts removed now?
Only on a court order. The judgment said now on, no social media posts can be taken out without a court order. Earlier, anyone could approach the police and posts could be taken out and websites could be blocked. But the SC upheld Section 69A, under which the Centre can issue directions to block an internet site, saying there are adequate procedural safeguards.
But the reasons for blocking will have to be recorded in writing in such a blocking order.
How did Parliament pass the Act?
Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, one of the petitioners against the law, said the bill was pushed in seven minutes without debate. The resolution against the bill was moved by CPM's P Rajeev in Rajya Sabha and seconded by Chandrasekhar. "The resolution was on the verge of being put to vote but the then law minister Kapil Sibal did not want that and he assured to review it, but did not," said Chandrashekhar. He filed a petition in 2013.
Which Websites were affected?
One of the hardest hit was Mouthshut.com, a consumer review website. "Everyone who had a negative review, for example, a real-estate developer who had not delivered a flat in time or an educational institution awarding fake degrees threatened Mouthshut to remove anything negative from their website on similar but expansive grounds as Section 66A," said lawyer Mishi Choudhary.
What's Mothshut.com saying?
Owner Faisal Farooqui said that he was "thrilled" that the rights of the people were safeguarded. "We were harassed by the police who wanted details of people posting fake ads, and I had also hoped that the big guys like Facebook and Twitter would take this up. I'm quite relived today," he said.
How did social media receive judgment?
The moment it was announced, social media sites erupted in celebration. #Sec66A was one of the top trends all day, with actors, politicians and activists tweeting. Internet expert and Medianama editor Nikhil Pahwa said that even though provisions like Section 79 and the cyber crime laws could still cause trouble, the SC should be applauded for dividing freedom of speech in three sections.
'Even if a post is annoying, it's fine'
The SC ruling categorised freedom of speech in three sections: for discussions, advocacy and incitement. Any expression that discusses or advocates cannot be punishable under law. But those that incite violence will be punished. "It, more of less, laid down a framework: that even if a post is annoying, it is fine. But, incitement is problematic," said Internet expert and Medianama editor Nikhil Pahwa.