Tuesday, March 24, 2015

SC quashes Section 66A of IT Act: Key points of court verdict

The Supreme Court on Tuesday quashed Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which provides the government power to arrest a person for posting allegedly "offensive" content on websites. Here are key points of the SC judgment.
Cops 'misuse' Section 66A
This section had been widely misused by police in various states to arrest innocent persons for posting critical comments about social and political issues and political leaders on social networking sites.
What is Section 66A
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."
Section 66A violates Article 19(1)(a) of Constitution
The SC said Section 66A of the Information Technology Act was violative of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech and expression.
Terming liberty of thought and expression as "cardinal", a bench of justices J Chelameswar and R F Nariman said, "The public's right to know is directly affected by section 66A of the Information Technology Act."
Govt can still block websites
The court, however, allowed the government to block websites if their contents had the potential to create communal disturbance, social disorder or affect India's relationship with other countries.
What may be offensive to a person may not be offensive to the other
"How is it possible for law enforcement agency and others to decide as to what is offensive and what is grossly offensive? What may be offensive to a person may not be offensive to the other," the SC bench said.
Terms used in 66A are quite vague
The court said terms like "annoying", "inconvenient" and "grossly offensive", used in the provision are vague as it is difficult for the law enforcement agency and the offender to know the ingredients of the offence.
The bench also referred to two judgments of separate UK courts which reached different conclusions as to whether the material in question was offensive or grossly offensive.
Govt can't give an undertaking about its successor
The SC bench rejected the assurance given by NDA government during the hearing that certain procedures may be laid down to ensure that the law in question is not abused. The government had also said that it will not misuse the provision. "Governments come and go but section 66A will remain forever," the bench said, adding the present government cannot give an undertaking about its successor that they will not abuse the same.
Shreya Singhal moved court for repeal of Section 66A
The court was moved by one Shreya Singhal in 2012 following the arrest of two girls, Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Shrinivasan, for posting comments critical of the Mumbai shutdown following the death of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray.

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