SC verdict to protect free exchange of views on Net

The Supreme Court's landmark verdict quashing Section 66A of the Information Technology Act has come as massive relief to who believed in free exchange of views using any form of electronic communication over the Internet.

Notably, Section 66A was dubbed “draconian” leading to arrest of several innocent persons, igniting a public outcry for its scrapping.

Protecting free speech, a bench of Justices J Chelameswar and R F Nariman agreed with plea made by petitioners, including law student Shreya Singhal, PUCL and NGO Common Cause, that the provision suffered from vice of vagueness and came in conflict with the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.

The provision stated: “Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device, (a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or; (b) 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; or (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 maximum three year jail term and with fine”.

However, the apex court upheld Constitutional validity of Section 79 of the IT Act in which intermediaries like Google, Facebook and Twitter were exempt from liabity subject to their following notified guidelines.

The court clarified they would have to remove the contentious materials on being notified by appropriate authority. Intermediaries would have to “expeditiously remove or disable access to such materials” on being notified for falling foul of the reasonable restrictions put under Article 19(2) (reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech) of the Constitution.

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