Shreya Singhal Vs. Unioin of Indian – Analysis

Introduction

Apex Court in a milestone judgment struck down section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 which gave arrangements to the capture of the individuals who posted supposedly hostile substance on the web maintaining opportunity of articulation. Section 66A characterizes the discipline for sending “offensive” messages through a PC or some other specialized gadget like a cell phone or tablet and a conviction of it can bring a most extreme three years of prison and a fine.

The case revolves around the principal right of the right to speak freely of discourse and articulation under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, which tested the sacred legitimacy of section 66A and prompted the struck down of section 66A of the Information Technology Act 2000.

Brief Facts-

  • Police arrested two ladies for posting purportedly hostile and offensive remarks on Facebook about the respectability of closing down the city of Mumbai after the passing of a political pioneer. The police made the captures under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act of 2000 (ITA), which rebuffs any individual who sends through a PC asset or specialized gadget any data that is terribly hostile, or with the information on its lie, the data is transmitted to cause irritation, bother, peril, affront, injury, scorn, or malevolence.
  • Although the police later discharged the ladies and excused their indictment, the episode summoned generous media consideration and analysis. The ladies at that point recorded a request, testing the established legitimacy of Section 66A on the ground that it abuses the right to freedom of expresson.
  • The Supreme Court of India at first gave an interval measure in Singhal v. Union of India, (2013) 12 S.C.C. 73, forbidding any arrest as per Section 66A except if such capture is affirmed by senior cops. For the situation close by, the Court tended to the legality of the arrangement.

Section- 66A of IT Act is Reproduced below-

 Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc. -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) 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; 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 imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine. Explanation. -For the purpose of this section, terms “electronic mail” and “electronic mail message” means a message or information created or transmitted or received on a computer, computer system, computer resource or communication device including attachments in text, image, audio, video and any other electronic record, which may be transmitted with the message.

Grounds of Challenge

  • It infringes the fundamental right to free speech and expression and is not saved by any of the eight subjects covered in Article 19(2).
  • This section in creating an offence suffers from the vice of vagueness because of which the innocent persons are roped in as offenders.
  • The enforcement of the said section would really be an insidious form of censorship which impairs a core value contained in Article 19(1)(a).
  • The said section infringes the rights of the individual under Articles 14 and 21 in as much there is no intelligible differentia between those who use the internet and those who by words spoken or written use their mediums of communication.
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Petitioners’ Contentions

  • The petitioners conteneded that the very premise of Section 66A – that it has offered ascend to new types of wrongdoings – is mistaken, and that Sections 66B to 67C and different Sections of the Indian Penal Code (which will be alluded to hereinafter) are sufficient to manage every one of these violations.
  • According to them, as a matter of first importance Section 66A encroaches the major option to free speech and expression and isn’t saved by any of the eight subjects covered in Article 19(2).
  • Further, in creating an offence, Section 66A suffers from the vice of vagueness because unlike the offence created by Section 66 of the same Act, none of the aforesaid terms are even attempted to be defined and cannot be defined, the result being that innocent persons are roped in as well as those who are not. Such persons are not told clearly on which side of the line they fall; and it would be open to the authorities to be as arbitrary and whimsical as they like in booking such persons under the said Section.

 

  • The petitioners additionally battle that their privileges under Articles 14 and 21 are penetrated since there is no intelligible diferentia between the individuals who utilize the web and the individuals who by words verbally expressed or composed utilize different modes of correspondence. To rebuff someone since he utilizes a specific mechanism of correspondence is itself a biased item and would fall foul of Article 14 regardless.

Respondents’ Contentions

  • Respondents contended that the legislature is in the best situation to comprehend and value the necessities of the individuals. The Court will, consequently, meddle with the authoritative procedure just when a resolution is unmistakably violative of the rights given under Part-III of the Constitution.
  • Further, the Court would so translate a rule to make it serviceable and in doing so can add something extra to it or read down the arrangements that are condemned. The Constitution doesn’t force unthinkable gauges of deciding legitimacy.
  • Mere plausibility of maltreatment of an arrangement can’t be a ground to announce an arrangement invalid. Free language may have been utilized in Section 66A to manage novel strategies for upsetting others’ privileges by utilizing the web as an instrument to do as such.
  • Further, vagueness is not a ground to declare a statute unconstitutional if the statute is otherwise legislatively competent and non-arbitrary. He cited a large number of judgments before us both from this Court and from overseas to buttress his submissions.
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Judgment

In this case, the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, relating to restrictions on online speech, unconstitutional on grounds of violating the freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.

The Court further held that the Section was not saved by virtue of being ‘reasonable restrictions’ on the freedom of speech under Article 19(2). The case was a watershed moment for online free speech in India.

When determining whether the provision was unconstitutional due to its vagueness, the Supreme Court stressed the fact that laws should be drafted so that a person of ordinary intelligence is given a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited. The Supreme Court also stressed that a provision should also provide clear guidance to authorities and courts so that it is not liable to suffer from arbitrary and discriminatory application.

The Supreme Court found section 66A to be completely open ended, undefined, and vague. It failed to narrowly and closely define the contours of the offence. The Supreme Court pointed out that all of the words in section 66A had a nebulous meaning. For example, something that is offensive to one person may not be offensive to another.

Judgment Analysis

The decision in Shreya Singhal is enormously significant in the Supreme Court’s history for some reasons. In an uncommon case, Supreme Court has embraced the outrageous advance of announcing an oversight law passed by Parliament as through and through ill-conceived.

The Judgment has expanded the extent of the privilege accessible to us to communicate uninhibitedly, and the constrained space given to the state in controlling this opportunity in just the most extraordinary of conditions.

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In its judgment the Supreme Court additionally maintained the legality of section 69A of the Information Technology Act, which gives a framework to the obstructing of data online by method of a request from an individual from Central Government.

Petitioner have contended that Article 14 is likewise encroached in that an offense whose fixings are obscure in nature is subjective and absurd and would bring about discretionary and unfair use of the criminal law. Further, there is no intelligible differentia between the mode of print, communicate, and genuine live discourse rather than discourse on the web and, in this manner, new classes of criminal offenses can’t be made on this ground.

similar offenses which are committed on the internet have a 3 years maximum sentence under Section 66A rather than maligning which has a 2 years maximum sentence. Additionally, defamation is a non-cognizable offense though under Section 66A the offense is cognizable.

Author: Lalit Mohan,
Delhi Metropolitan Education,GGSIPU ( 4th year )

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