Section 66A may be gone, not hate speech

The government still has the right to ban websites whose content is offensive.

 |  2-minute read |   02-04-2015
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It was not hoping against the hope. All who believed in the strength of India as a nation were hopeful. And finally, the Supreme Court struck down section 66A of the Information Technology Act. It declared it unconstitutional as it was a violation of the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 of the Constitution of India. Section 66A prescribed jail for three years for sending "grossly offensive or menacing" messages through the computer or any other communication device (read mobile phone).

It became a draconian law as it was vague, ambiguous and prone to misuse. Words such as "offensive" and "annoying" were open to interpretation and misinterpretation. Thus, the essential ingredients constituting the offence remained unclear. It became a tool and was well used by all governments and political leaders to protect themselves from criticisms by the general public. It was a hindrance to the democratic and modern ideas of the society. Mostly youth became its victims as they were more vocal to voice their opinion on the internet. Youth uses social media as it enables fast transfer of thoughts and opinions. The transmission of information is quick and reaches millions with the click of a button. It creates room for open debates and discussions.

The fundamental flaw in this section was that it was a clear violation of an individual’s right to free speech and liberty of thought. It stretched far beyond the scope of the reasonable restrictions criteria laid down under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. Every individual has the right to free flow of opinions, discussions and advocacy on issues they feel strongly about. However, such opinions should not lead to instigation or incitement. And free speech must be free from any intention to cause communal tension or pose a threat to national integrity.

The law under section 66A was framed recently; however, the thought behind it was archaic. The opposition to such a restrictive and conservative law shows that our youth has woken up. This judgment has not only instilled faith in the judicial system of our country but has also made us realise that laws which are vague and prone to misuse will not stand the test of time. The hope still remains that the government wouldn’t bring other laws similar to Section 66A under the garb of keeping it within the restrictions of Article 19(2).

However, striking down of Section 66A does not provide a platform to individuals to spread hate speech. It allows the purest form of free speech provided it does not create communal tension, social disturbance and affect India’s relations with other countries. Various sections of the IPC can still be attracted in such cases. The government has the right to ban websites whose content is offensive.

Writer

Nikhar Luthra Nikhar Luthra

The writer is a law student.

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