Saturday, March 28, 2015
"On February 6, 2013, Sanjay Chaudhary was arrested under section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act for posting ‘objectionable comments and caricatures’ of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Union Minister for IT, Kapil Sibal and Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav on his Facebook wall" ("An Unreasonable Restriction", The Hindu, 02/20/13). Since its passage, the amendment had been cited as draconian and leading to suppression of freedom of speech.
The Supreme Court of India, on 03/25/2015, ruled that the sections 66A & 79A of the Indian IT Act were unconstitutional. The law was amended in 2009 making it mandatory for the social media website owners to remove content if any complaints were received regarding the content being inappropriate. It also gave powers to the police to arrest anyone if in their opinion the content was inappropriate. The court ruled that the definitions of what could be construed as "inappropriate", including terms such as "annoying, offensive, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill-will", was vague and amounted to violation of the right to free speech. Also, since the definitions were vague, the provision was liable to be misused (or abused) by the government (or police officials independent of the government), as mere causing of "annoyance" to anyone was sufficient to invoke the provisions for making an arrest. Consequent to the ruling only a government or a court can order removal of content.
Ironically the ruling has been welcomed by both the Indian National Congress, the party under whose regime the Act was amended in 2009, and the BJP, the party currently in power, though the government defended the repealed articles of the law in court. Activists are happy too, so are the content manager social media companies such as google.
More on the story at -
1. "Supreme Court strikes down Section 66A of IT Act; says it's unconstitutional", Economic Times, March 25th, 2015.
2. "Massive win for free speech online: India's Supreme Court strikes down #Sec66A", The News Minute, March 24th, 2015.