According to an article by Jason Burke in the Guardian Newspaper, India’s supreme court has struck down a controversial law that made posting “offensive” comments on social media a crime punishable by jail.
The decision on Tuesday came after a two-year campaign by free speech activists, led by a law student.
In a decision that surprised many, judges said an amendment to India’s Information Technology Act known as http://cis-india.org/internet-governance/resources/section-66A-information-technology-act was unconstitutional and a restriction on freedom of speech.
For ease of reference, section 66A states as follows:
66A. Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc
Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,—
- any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or
- 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,
- 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.
“The public’s right to know is directly affected by section 66A,” said Justice R F Nariman, reading out the judgment.
The law, which received presidential assent in 2009, makes posting information of “grossly offensive or menacing character” punishable by up to three years in jail. Campaigners claimed that it was repeatedly misused by police.
This month police in the poor northern state of Uttar Pradesh arrested a teenager for a Facebook post which they said “carried derogatory language against a community” wrongly attributed to a powerful local politician.
Other cases include a university professor detained for posting a cartoon about the chief minister of the state of West Bengal.
In 2012 two young women were arrested under the act over a Facebook post criticising the shutdown of Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, after the death of a local hardline politician. One was arrested simply for “liking” the post, relatives said.
The charges were later quashed by a Mumbai court but sparked outrage and fierce debate about online censorship in http://www.theguardian.com/world/india.
According to the article, Shreya Singhal, the young law student who petitioned the court on Section 66A, described the decision as “a victory for the country”.
According to techcrunch, recent date released by Facebook showed that India’s government made the second highest number of requests for user information from the social network during the second half of 2014. While the volume of requests from the U.S. and UK governments dipped, India lodged more in H2 2014 than in the first half of the year.