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If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.
-George Washington

Lately Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the Information and Technology Act-2000, which provides power to arrest a person for posting allegedly “offensive” content on social media and websites.

“It is clear that Section 66A arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately invades the right of free speech and upsets the balance between such right and the reasonable restrictions that may be imposed on such right,” said a Bench of Justices J. Chelameswar and Rohinton F. Nariman. The definition of offences under the provision was “open-ended and undefined”, it said.

Article 19(1)a. of the Indian Constitution gives the citizens of India the right to freedom of expression. Article 19(2) lays down certain restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. To impose such restrictions 66A was introduced by the Congress led UPA government in 2008.
Section 66A is widely criticized by the people. It has led to numerous abuses reported by the press. Section 66A has also been criticised and challenged in Lucknow and Madras High Courts for its constitutional validity.

Section 66A defines the punishment for sending and updating “offensive” messages or posts, through a computer or any other communication device like a mobile phone or a tablet. A conviction can amount to a maximum of three years in jail and a fine.
This section has no defined meaning and is open to illogical interpretation by law maintaining agencies. Every expression used in this section is open-ended, undefined and vague. What may be offensive to one may not be offensive to another. What may cause annoyance or inconvenience to one may not cause annoyance or inconvenience to another.

The first petition came up in the court following the arrest of two girls in Maharashtra by Thane Police in November 2012 over a Facebook post. The girls had made comments on the shutdown of Mumbai for the funeral of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray. In 2012 Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra was arrested for sharing something against the chief minister of west Bengal, Mamta Banerjee. Recently a student of Class XI was arrested for allegedly uploading a controversial post attributed to senior UP minister Azam Khan on Facebook.

The petition against Section 66 A was filed by 23-year-old law student Shreya Singhal. In the petition it was argued that it is a potential tool to restrain legitimate free speech online, and to remit freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under the Constitution.
The Supreme Court accepted the contention that the provision was “very widely drafted”, and gave arbitrary powers to police officers to make arrests. The Supreme Court while examining the constitutional validity of Section 66A of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000  declared it to be ultra vires i.e. unconstitutional.

Freedom of speech is one of the essential foundations of a democracy. Thus, the right to freedom of expression is a valuable right of man. It is a fruit of democracy. It should be enjoyed, nursed and preserved. However, it should not be allowed to be misused as a licence by any person. But unreasonable restrictions cannot be justified.
“Jahan par labz-e-aman ek khaufnak raaz ho…jahan kabootaron ka sarparast ek baaz ho….wahan na chup rahenge hum..bolenge hum”

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Kartikey Misra

A student of law, co-founder eltrivate, Individualist, Narcissist. Totally believes in Nationalism. Has an interest in politics, history, religion, literature and international relations. Loves to hunt pseudo liberals and pseudo seculars.

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