Three cheers for the Supreme Court for having ruled that the liberty of thought of expression for Internet users in general and the facebook users in particular. Now netizens can post their comments online without the fear of being arrested by the police. Striking down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act as unconstitutional, the Supreme Court rejected the Union government’s plea that it was committed to free speech and would ensure that the provision was administered in a reasonable manner. Netizens were pleased with apex court’s verdict and took to twitter to laud the landmark judgement.
The bench, however, upheld the government’s power to create separate offences for the cyber world and declared as constitutional Sections 69A and 79(3)(b), under which blocking orders and take-down notices are issued to websites to remove certain objectionable content in accordance with guidelines. The court said the guidelines provided necessary safeguards. Section 66A empowered police to make arrests over what policemen, in terms of their subjective discretion, could construe as “offensive” or “menacing” or for the purposes of causing annoyance, inconvenience, etc. It was a personal victory for the 24 year old petitioner Shreya Singhal to get the verdict in favour of millions of people using the social network through Internet in India. The judgement has brought relief to Shreya. She is excited that the case named after her – Shreya Singhal vs Union of India – would become a case study for law students and a precedent for future verdicts.
The Supreme Court has paved the way for thoughtful jurisprudence in the age of the Internet. The entire issue was about sharing something objectionable online and that section has been quashed by the apex court. Successive governments have tried to control expression on the Internet because the medium connects a large number of people with a wide variety of views. Police have arrested cartoonists, professors, businessmen and industrialists for posting comments against politicians. It should also be noted that the judgment is the outcome of a new kind of political activism around free speech, which saw activists, lawyers, bloggers and social media coming together in a markedly different way from the segmented modes in which free speech battles have taken place in the past. Supreme Court now set aside trials and tribulation of the regular users for social cause a sigh of relief and held liberty of thought and expression a free use through the common media called Internet.