New Delhi: In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court on Tuesday quashed Section 66 A of IT Act that allowed arrests for objectionable content online.
The apex court, while passing its ruling, observed that the Section 66A of the IT Act was ‘too vague and violative of 19(1)A of Constitution’.
The highest court, while maintaining that Section 66A “affects freedom of expression and speech”, said, “what may be offensive to a person, may not be offensive to others”.
Section 66A of IT Act clearly affects Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression enshrined under Constitution, the apex court ruled. “Public’s right to know is directly affected by Section 66A of Information Technology Act,” the SC further said.
The apex court passed its order while responding to a batch of petitions challenging constitutional validity of certain sections of the cyber law, including a provision under which a person can be arrested for allegedly posting “offensive” contents on websites.
The ruling was passed by the bench of Justices J Chelameswar and RF Nariman, which had on February 26 reserved its judgement after the government concluded its arguments contending that Section 66A of the Information Technology Act cannot be “quashed” merely because of the possibility of its “abuse”.
Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had said that the government did not want to curtail the freedom of speech and expression at all which is enshrined in the Constitution, but the vast cyber world could not be allowed to remain unregulated.
However, the court had said that terms like ‘illegal’, ‘grossly offensive’ and ‘menacing character’ were vague expressions and these words were likely to be misunderstood and abused.
Some of the petitions seek setting aside of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act which empowers police to arrest a person for allegedly posting offensive materials on social networking sites.
The first PIL on the issue was filed in 2012 by a law student Shreya Singhal, who sought amendment in Section 66A of the Act, after two girls — Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Shrinivasan — were arrested in Palghar in Thane district as one of them posted a comment against the shutdown in Mumbai following Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray’s death and the other ‘liked’ it.
The apex court had on May 16, 2013, come out with an advisory that a person, accused of posting objectionable comments on social networking sites, cannot be arrested without police getting permission from senior officers like IG or DCP.
The direction had come in the wake of numerous complaints of harassment and arrests, sparking public outrage.
It had, however, refused to pass an interim order for a blanket ban on the arrest of such persons across the country.