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Politics
Supreme Court strikes down Section 66A of IT Act
25-03-2015

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday declared Section 66A of Information Technology Act as unconstitutional and struck it down. 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.

The court said such a law hit at the root of liberty and freedom of expression, two cardinal pillars of democracy.

The court said such a law hit at the root of liberty and freedom of expression, the two cardinal pillars of democracy. The court said the section has to be erased from the law books as it has gone much beyond the reasonable restrictions put by the Constitution on freedom of speech. The Supreme Court said section 66A was vaguely worded and allowed its misuse by police.

The court, however, upheld the validity of section 69B and the 2011 guidelines for the implementation of the I-T Act that allowed the government to block websites if their content had the potential to create communal disturbance, social disorder or affect India's relationship with other countries.

However, the court watered down section 79 of the I-T Act making it further difficult for the police to harass innocent for their comments on social network sites.

The SC delivered its judgment on a bunch of petitions filed in the light of misuse of the penal provision by government authorities against persons who allegedly uploaded offensive posts on social networking sites.

The petitioners, including NGOs, civil rights groups and a law student, had argued that Section 66A violated citizens' fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. The first petition was however filed by a law student Shreya Singhal.

The government had opposed the plea for quashing the provision saying it is meant to deter people from uploading grossly offensive material which can lead to lawlessness by inciting public anger and violence.

Justifying the retention of the provision, the Centre had told the apex court that the impact of the internet is much wider and restriction on this medium should be higher in comparison to print and TV.

It had said, unlike print and electronic media, the internet did not operate in an institutional form and there was need for some mechanism to put checks and balances.

The government had said the provision could not be quashed just because of its potential misuse. Posting pictures and comments on social networking sites which hurt religious sentiments could not be tolerated and people must be prosecuted, it said.

Former attorney general Soli J Sorabjee, who appeared for one of the petitioners, termed the judgment a 'glorious vindication' of right to free speech. He spoke to the TOI after SC bench of Justices J Chelameswar and RF Nariman struck down section 66A as unconstitutional. Sorabjee said: "The judgment is well researched, well reasoned and erudite in expression. It is a glorious vindication of freedom of expression."

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