- In the year 2012, the Mumbai cops detained two girls, Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan. They were arrested under section 66 A of Information Technology Act.
- The arrest was made for criticizing a bandh declared by Shiv Sena supporters in Maharashtra in connection with the death of Shiv Sena chairman Bal Thackery.
- The petitioners were accused of publishing their remarks on Facebook and like the comments at the same time, resulting in significant public outrage.
- The girls were soon freed, but it sparked widespread public outrage and media attention, with many alleging that it violated the right to free speech and expression granted by Article 19 of the Constitution.
- Following this event in 2013, the Central Government issued an advice stating that no one can be detained without first obtaining the permission of the Inspector General of Police.
- Facts of the case-
- The petitioners by the way of Public Interest, filed the writ petition under Article-32 of the Constitution claiming that section 66A of IT Act 2000 violates the right of freedom of speech and expression of an individual.
- The Supreme Court consolidated all of these petitions into a single P.I.L, and the case was titled Shreya Singhal vs. Union of India.
- Issues Raised–
- whether sections 66A, 69A, and 79 of the 2000 Information and Technology Act are unconstitutional? Section 69A refers to the website being blocked after public access to any information via any computer resource. Before any middlemen block the website, there are some regulations and procedures that must be followed. The question was whether it infringed on a citizen’s fundamental right under Article 19 of the Indian constitution? Section 79 curtails individuals right to free speech and expression or not?
- Does the aforementioned section violate Article14,19(1), and 21 of India’s constitution which are fundamental in nature?
- By the Petitioner (Shreya Singhal)-
- Section 66A of the Information Technology Act of 2000 violates the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution.
- Section- 66A is unclear in nature, and it has caused an infirmity because it does not properly define the terms used this under section, and it has left the doors open for interpretations of this section based on the desires of law enforcement organizations. As a result, the limitation is missing and not provided by the section.
- The section violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution because there is no “intelligible distinction” as to why only communication techniques are emphasized by Section-66 A. This leads to self-discrimination, which is a violation of Article 14, 21 of the constitution.
- Section 66-A terminology — causing disturbance, Annoyance, discomfort, danger, impediment, and insult are not covered by the ground of Reasonable Restriction of Freedom of Expression granted in Article 19, clause 2.
- The petitioners further claimed that the clause granted the authorities arbitrary powers in interpreting it.
- The petitioner also cited the landmark judgment given in Ramesh Thappar vs State of Madras and another landmark judgment given in the case of Sakal Papers vs Union of India by which it is clear that freedom of speech and expression is to be preserved as it keeps democracy alive.
- By the Respondent (Union of India)-
- The respondent argued that Section 66 A is constitutionally legitimate and that the legislature is in the ideal position to accept and acknowledge the needs of the people. The court will find a provision unconstitutional only when it plainly violates Part III of the Constitution, and that was not the case with Section 66 A of the Constitution.
- The respondent further claims that the ambiguity of the wording cannot be used to deem the legislation unconstitutional if the act is otherwise legislatively competent and non-arbitrary. Furthermore, the section’s text includes all of the situations under which a person might utilize the internet to violate the rights of others.
- The respondent also claimed potential abuse of power by Police Authority can not be used to declare the section inconsistent with fundament rights guaranteed by constitution of India.
- The abuse of legislation by executive authorities can not be held as a ground to declare the section 66A void.
The court said: “Every expression used is nebulous in meaning. What may be offensive to one may not be offensive to another”. The Apex Court accepted the petitioner’s claims and found that Section 66 A suppresses freedom of speech and expression and that the terms contained therein do not provide the basis for implementing Reasonable Restriction on freedom. The ambiguous phrasing of Article 66 A may lead to arbitrariness, causing injury and unfairness to society. The court struck down section 66A with the given logic behind it. However, court also held Section 69A of the IT Act provides for the banning of information for public access, which is lawful for national security purpose. Section 79 is also valid as it provides power to the authority regarding regulations of social media and other IT medias, hence it does not infringe with individual’s free speech.
The Supreme Court recently called the ongoing utilization by law enforcement agencies of section 66A of Information Technology Act of 2000 — “a disturbing state of things” and requested the Centre’s reply. Even after the landmark judgment, several cases are being registered under Section 66A of IT Act, 2000. Over the years the police have utilized this clause, notably in posting materials against politicians, to arrest numerous persons. We are just hoping, soon this unethical practice throughout the nation will be halted permanently.
Court- Supreme Court of India
Bench- J. Chelameswar, Rohinton Fali Nariman
Petitioner- Shreya Singhal
Respondent- Union of India
Date of Judgement- 24.03.2015
- Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, (2015) 5 SCC 1