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SC upholds freedom of online speech

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Supreme-Court-of-IndiaThe Supreme Court has struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act 2000, which empowers the police to arrest a person for posting ‘offensive content’ online.

The apex court has held the section to be unconstitutional in its entirety.

However, the court has upheld the constitutional validity of Section 69A (dealing with blocking of websites) and Section 79 and the rules made under it dealing with liability of intermediaries.

The petitioners had challenged constitutional validity of the Section 66A, describing it as vague and ambiguous and beyond the ambit of article 19 of the Constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech.

The challenge was raised following the arrest of two girls — Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Shrinivasan — for posting comments critical of the Mumbai bandh in the wake of the death of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray.

What is Section 66A of IT Act:

The Information Technology Act 2000 was amended in the year 2008. The much debated section 66A imposes punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service.

Section66A applies to these cases :

(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or

(b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device,

(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages.

shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.

Explanation.— For the purpose of this section, terms “electronic mail” and “electronic mail message” means a message or information created or transmitted or received on a computer, computer system, computer resource or communication device including attachments in text, images, audio, video and any other electronic record, which may be transmitted with the message.

To read the IT (Amendment) Act, 2008, click  here.

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