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The Shreya Singhal's Case: A Constitutional And Technological Approach To Freedom Of Speech And Expression

"Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties."-- John Milton

The Constitution of India, A basic pedestal of Indian Legal System having all attributes for protection of citizens and non-citizens of the nation to keep them under the protected umbrella of civil, cultural and political rights. The Right to freedom is one of the integral part of these rights which provides its citizens a right to speech and expression, assemble, associate, movement, residence and doing any kind of Trade or profession as a part of the freedom, although these freedoms are subjected to some reasonable restrictions for protection from misuse and against the country.

In addition to this constitution guarantees the equality before the law and equal protection of the law, which is based on a principle that ''like should treated alike'' also the right to life and personal liberty has a widespread scope in Indian constitution which is one of the most amended article of Indian Constitution.

In our case study, as mentioned on first page, is concerned with three main articles of the Indian Constitution e.g., right to equality, right to freedom of speech and expression and right to life and personal liberty, wherein the interpterion of terms in IT and cyber law 2000 have been challenged and section 66A of the Act claimed about to be violative of the Indian constitution specifically under article 19(1)a of the constitution, wherein the writs filed against Section 66A of IT Act 2000 by taking into consideration the unconstitutionality of the section whereby it was proven to be the violative of the constitution for expression our views through online mediums and caused an infringement to speech and expression.

Meaning, Scope and Significance of the freedom to speech and expression

A person who is not a citizen of India i.e., foreign nationals. Freedom of speech and expression means the right to express one's own convictions and opinions freely by words of mouth, writing, printing, pictures or any other mode. Thus, it includes the expression of one's ideas through any communicable medium or visible representation, such as, gesture, signs The rights conferred under Article 19 of the Constitution are the rights of free man. These are natural law or common law rights and not created by a statute. As such every citizen is entitled to exercise such rights provided conditions to be imposed whenever so required by the State.

Background of the case:
The background of the case begins when the Supreme Court of India ruled that Section 66A of the Information Technology Act of 2000 was unconstitutional in its entirety. The petitioners argued that Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution's restrictions went beyond the protection it was intended to offer against annoyance, discomfort, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, and criminal intimidation.

They also argued that Section 66A was unconstitutionally unclear. The Court came to the conclusion that there were no justifiable exceptions to the right to freedom of speech that applied to the ban on transmitting content through a computer resource or a communication tool with the intention of causing annoyance, discomfort, or insult. It was additionally ruled that "a very considerable quantity of inconvenience or annoyance" was caused by the provision's omission to define phrases such

Facts of the case:
In this case, The public interest litigation from the different parts of the country were clubbed together combined in the name of Shreya Singhal as a single PIL, where the issues arose when two girls of Maharashtra were apprehended by the police In the garb of Section 66A, two women named as Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan were detained by Mumbai police for reportedly posting inappropriate and disrespectful remarks on Facebook over the 'bandh' (shutting down of city of Mumbai) which was called in by the members of Shiv Sena Party in Maharashtra on the incident of Shiv Sena Chief Bal Thackery's death.

While the 21-year-old Shaheen Dhada was arrested for posting a innocuous comment on her Facebook Profile, her college mate Renu Srinivasan crime was to 'like' Shaheen's comment. Despite the fact that the women were later released by the police and their charges were dropped, the incident received a lot of media attention and backlash.

The women then submitted a petition, arguing that Section 66A is unconstitutional since it interferes with their freedom of expression.

The Apex Court of India first announced an interim remedy that forbade any arrest made in accordance with Section 66A unless the arrest was sanctioned by senior police authorities. With the case in hand, the Hon'ble Supreme Court thoroughly examined the legality of the clause in Shreya Singhal v Union of India.

The arrest of a person under Section 66A of the IT Act was suggested to have a proviso in place by the Union Government in 2013. No person may be detained by the police without the previous consent of a superior official who has the rank of Inspector General of Police or above, according to the Central Government's advice.

The IT Act's section 66A was subsequently the subject of several petitions from citizens all around the India. These petitions were combined by the Supreme Court of India into a single PIL, and the resulting case was known as Shreya Singhal v. Union of India.

Comment on Section 66A of the IT Act of 20003
Article 19(1)'s core idea is that any particular principle may be the subject of debate. Any topic or person that crosses the line into incitement is subject to Article 19(2). At this point, the state has the authority to restrict freedom of speech and expression if the advocacy results in public disturbances and violence and jeopardises India's sovereignty, goodwill, and dignity. Similar to this, if a state goes beyond the permissible limitations outlined in article 19(2), it may deny a person their right to freedom of expression.4

Comments on sections 69, 69A, and 79 of IT Act of 2000
Section 69A discusses the blocking of websites after public access to any material through any computer resource. Before the website is blocked by any intermediaries, there are a set of regulations and procedures that must be followed. Here, the issue was whether it violates on a citizen's basic right, which is guaranteed by Article 19 of the Indian Constitution.

The supreme court ruled in this case that government of India have the authority to obstruct or restrict the manner, when doing so serves the interests of the country. Section 79 cannot apply to unlawful conduct that are prohibited by Article 19(2) or other applicable laws. This section held this point to be unconstitutional and violative.

International Law relating to Freedom of speech and expression
The freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)5 under Article 19 of the legislation. It demonstrates that everyone is guaranteed the unalienable right to hold views and opinions without restraint. Additionally, the freedom of expression is safeguarded under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

It expressly stipulates that "everyone shall have the right to freedom of speech," which includes the ability to seek for, receive, and disseminate knowledge of any kind, regardless of borders, whether orally, in writing or print, via art, or by any other means of his choosing.6

Legal Issues in the case
In the above-mentioned case, the two basic issues emerged up to decide for the court of law, these can be summed up as follow:
  1. Is the constitutionality of Sections 66-A, 69-A, and 79 of the IT Act in question?
  2. Does Section 66A of the IT Act violate the freedom of speech and expression as a fundamental right?
  3. Does Section 66A of the IT Act violate Article 14 of India's constitution?

Arguments advanced by the Petitioner
So here are the arguments raised by the petitioner:
The primary conflict raised by the applicant is that Article 66A of I.T Act 2000 is violative of Fundamental Right of Speech and expression as ensured under Article 19(1)(a) of Constitution. The right to Speech and expression is fundamental in a majority rules system.In Romesh Thapper versus State of Madras7 J. Patanjali Shashtri saw that "The right to speech and expression and of Press establish at the underpinning of all just association, for without free political conversation no state funded schooling, so fundamental for the legitimate working of interaction of famous government is conceivable.

In Sakal Papers Ltd. and Oth. Vs. Union of India said that, The right to Speech ande xpression of assessment is of fundamental significance under a popularity-based constitution which conceives changes in the creation of legislatures and government and should be saved.

Article 19 of the UDHR likewise expresses that "everybody has the option to opportunity of Speech and expression; this right incorporates opportunity to hold conclusions without impedance and to look for, get and give data and thoughts through any media and paying little heed to outskirts."Hence, one might say that the right to speak freely Speech and expression is of foremost significance and individuals have the opportunity to communicate their perspectives and suppositions uninhibitedly however Section 66 of I.T Act was not on the side of this opportunity.

It expressed "Any individual who sends using any and all means of a PC asset any data that is terribly hostile or has a threatening person; or any data which he knows to be misleading, however to cause annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult will be culpable with detainment for a term which might reach out to three years and with fine" which was obviously contrary to Article 19 of Constitution.

The following conflict of petitioner is the terms utilized in Section 66-A - causing of annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult isn't made under the progress of reasonable restrictions of the right to speech and expression given under sub article 2 of Article 19. The right to speech and expression isn't outright.

Certain limitation should be forced for the sake of Security of state, Cordial relations with foreign countries, Public order, Fairness, contempt of Court, Morality, . Nonetheless, these limitations need not to be erratic in nature. There should be a level-headed nexus between the inconvenience of limitation and goal tried to be accomplished. The limitation should be for the reason referenced in provision 2 to 6 of Article 19, which isn't fulfilled by section 66A of I.T Act.

The next contention of petitioner is the terms used in Section 66-A � causing of disturbance annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult is not covered under the ground of Reasonable Restriction of Freedom of Speech and Expression provided under clause 2 of Article 19.

Freedom of Speech and Expression is not absolute. Certain restriction needs to be imposed in the name of Security of state, Friendly relations with foreign country, Public Order, Decency, Contempt of Court, Morality, Defamation. However, these restrictions need not to be arbitrary in nature. There must be a rational nexus between the imposition of restriction and objective sought to be achieved. The restriction must be for the purpose mentioned in clause 2 to 6 of Article 19, which is not satisfied by Section 66A of I.T Act.

The third contention of petitioner is that Section 66- A is vague in nature as the terms used in this Section can be interpreted differently by different people according to their whims and desires. What may be offensive for one might not be wrong for the other. Thus, it is highly prone to abuse. A legislature having ambiguous interpretation is to be declared void. Thus, the petitioner contended that this section not clearly defined must be declared as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

The last contention raised is that Section 66 A is violation of Article 14 of Constitution as there is no intelligible differentia between those who are using internet as a medium of communication and others who are using other mediums of communication. It is a discriminatory to make classification between netizens and other citizens of the country and punishing netizens under Section 66 A for expressing their views about events.

Arguments advanced by the Respondent
However, the contentions of the respondent seem weak as compared to the petitioner which can be summed up through these lines:
Firstly, the respondent kept his view in front of the court and tried to defend the constitutional validity of Section 66 of the IT Act and contented that only the legislature is capable of understanding and examine the needs of the people of its country.

Next to this, secondly the respondents contented that court might make a mistake by declaring this provision unconstitutional as given under part 3 of the constitution.

The respondents also tried to claim that that mere if we have possibility that police will misuse this section, we cannot hold this section of Information Technology violative of our constitutional spirit.

Also, it was said that the court needs to be clear when it come to constitutionality of the act when it clearly infringes the part 3 provisions of constitution.

The respondents also claimed that mere if we have possibility that this section has a vagueness even in such case it cannot be a mere ground for such purpose of this section, we cannot hold this section of Information Technology violative of our constitutional spirit only on this single cause.

When a statute is legislatively competent and non- arbitrary it cannot take a single such ground, although the language of the section incorporates all conditions through which a person could use internet to infringe the right of others.

Internet and Freedom of Speech
When it comes to freedom of internet, our law has provided the remedy with reasonable restrictions- Internet access is definitely a part of the basic rights of all. It aids the right to expression and free speech.

Besides, the internet has become an accepted medium of communication. Access to Internet is merged with manifold fundamental rights like Education, information, communication, free speech and expression, health among others.

Right to access internet is a fundamental right. Suspension and shutdown of the internet and communication services is an infringement of the Freedom and rights guaranteed and safeguard under Art.19 of the Constitution, also can refer the case of Faheema Shirin v. State of Kerala10 Judgment of the casen ad lastly after hearing the submission of both parties and the law involved and references- Justice Chelameswar and Justice Nariman gave their judgment -

  • The main concern in front of the court was that whether Section 66A of IT Act violated the Freedom of speech and Expression ensured under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. As an exemption for the right, Article 19(2) licenses the public authority to force "reasonable restrictions . . . in light of a legitimate concern for respectability of India, the security of the State, cordial relations with foreign States, public order, fairness or profound quality or corresponding to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offense."
  • The Applicants contended that Part 66A was unlawful on the grounds that its expected assurance against annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, or ill-will fall outside the domain of Article 19(2). They additionally contended that the law was illegally ambiguous as it neglects to characterize its restrictions explicitly. Likewise, they battled that the law has a "chilling effect" on the right to freedom of speech and expression.
  • The Government, however, countered that courts should only become involved in the legislative process when "a statute is clearly violative of the rights conferred on the citizen under Part-III of the Constitution." The legislature, it was said, is in the greatest position to meet the demands of the people.
  • The government argued that the mere existence of misuse of a provision might not be sufficient to deem it unlawful. Additionally, the government believed that the law's vague language could not be a basis for its invalidity because it addresses cutting-edge ways of interfering with people's rights via the internet. According to the government, if a law is otherwise legislatively sound, ambiguity cannot be used as a justification to declare it unconstitutional.
  • The Court began by outlining three key ideas for comprehending the freedom of expression: discussion, advocacy, and incitement. The Court asserts that the core of the right is debate or even support of a specific cause, however unpopular and only when a debate or advocacy amounts to incitement may the law restrict freedom.
  • In the context of the current case, the Court determined that Section 66A can be used to impose restrictions on all internet communications because it "makes no distinction between mere discussion or advocacy of a particular point of view, which may be annoying, inconvenient, or grossly offensive to some, and incitement by which such words lead to an imminent causal connection with public disorder, security of the state, or any other kind of public disorder."
  • As applied to the case close by, the Court found that Section 66A is fit for restricting all types of web interchanges as it sees no difference "amongst simple conversation or support of a specific perspective, which might be irritating or badly designed or terribly hostile to some and prompting by which such words lead to an inescapable causal association with public turmoil, security of State and so on".
  • The court stated in Khushboo v. Kanniamal & Anr . that freedom of speech and expression is not absolute, which is crucial since we must put up with disagreeable views. Indeed, among all the rights guaranteed by the constitution, the freedom for media outlets to express their opinions must be acknowledged as being of paramount value because it is necessary for the successful operation of democratic institutions.
  • The court in the Shreya Singhal case remarked that Freedom of Speech and of the Press is the Ark of the Covenant of Democracy as public criticism is the basis for the operation of its organizations, and similar sentiments were expressed by the court in Bennett Coleman & Co. v. Union of India.
  • The Court further held that the law fails to establish a clear proximate relation to the protection of public order. According to the Court, the commission of an offense under Section 66A is complete by sending a message for the purpose of causing annoyance or insult. As a result, the law does not make a distinction between mass dissemination and dissemination to only one person without requiring the message to have a clear tendency of disrupting public order.
  • As to whether Section 66A was a valid attempt to protect individuals from defamatory statements through online communications, the Court noted that the main ingredient of defamation is "injury to reputation." It held that the law does not concern this objective because it also condemns offensive statements that may annoy or be inconvenient to an individual without affecting his reputation.
  • The Court also held that the government failed to show that the law intends to prevent communications that incite the commission of an offense because "the mere causing of annoyance, inconvenience, danger etc., or being grossly offensive or having a menacing character are not offenses under the Penal Code at all."
  • As to whether Section 66A was a valid attempt to protect individuals from defamatory statements through online communications, the Court noted that the main ingredient of defamation is "injury to reputation." It held that the law does not concern this objective because it also condemns offensive statements that may annoy or be inconvenient to an individual without affecting his reputation.
  • The Court likewise held that the public authority neglected to show that the law means to prevent communications that induce the commission of an offense on the grounds that "the simple causing of annoyance, inconvenience, danger, or being horribly hostile or having a menacing person are not offenses under the Corrective Code by any stretch of the imagination."
  • With regards to petitioner's test of vagueness, the Court followed the U.S. legal point of reference, which holds that "where no sensible guidelines are set down to characterize culpability in a Section which makes an offense, and where no unmistakable direction is given to law-abiding citizens or to authorities and courts, a Part which makes an offense and which is obscure should be struck down as being erratic and unreasonable. The Court found that Part 66A leaves many terms unassuming and indistinct, therefore making the Law void for dubiousness:
    • The Court likewise tended to whether Section 66A is equipped for forcing chilling impact on the right to speech of expression. It held that in light of the fact that the arrangement neglects to characterize terms, like bother or disturbance, "an extremely huge measure of safeguarded and guiltless discourse" could be reduced.
    • The Court additionally noticed the clear distinction between information sent through the web and different types of discourse, which allows the government to make separate offenses connected with online communications. In like manner, the Court dismissed the contention that Section 66A was disregarding Article 14 of the Constitution.
    • The Court declined to address the Applicants' test of procedural nonsensicalness since the law was at that point pronounced unlawful on considerable grounds. It additionally found Area 118(d) of the Kerala Police Act to be illegal as applied to Section 66A.
    • In light of the swearing off reasons, the Court nullified Section 66A of the IT act completely as it disregarded the right to speech and expression ensured under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.

    The Analysis of the Case Problem by Judicial Interpretation

    Based on the different arguments advanced and the submissions of claims and defense by the parties, the two-judge bench division of the Supreme Court analyzed the case in these below mentioned points - by Justices Chelameswar and Nariman. The major question was whether the right to freedom of expression protected by Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution was breached by Section 66A of the Indian Tax Act. Article 19(2) makes an exception for the government to be able to impose "reasonable restrictions... 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 offense.
    • Application of Doctrine of Severability in the case
    • This above-mentioned doctrine was applied by the Supreme Court, and Section 66A of the IT act was only held unconstitutional, not the whole Information Technology Act. Mere Section 66A was held to be unconstitutional, although the rest of the act was considered valid and held to be constitutionally valid.
    • Reasons for criticism of Section 66A
    • The issue was ambiguity about what was 'offensive.' The word's broad connotation allowed for a wide range of interpretations. In Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, the petitioners argued that Section 66A came with extremely wide parameters, which allowed whimsical interpretations by law enforcement agencies.

    The term 'offensive' was viewed as subjective in nature. What would have been trivial for one individual could lead to a complaint from another and as a result lead to an arbitrary arrest.

    Conclusion and Suggestions
    The two-judge bench of Court has given heading has made a positive stride towards the security of The right to speech and expression in present day period where a huge number of individuals use Web a method of correspondence to communicate their perspectives.

    By proclaiming Section 66A violative, the court clarified that conversation and backing on a subject is significant to help the revelation of truth and to empower people to partake in direction.

    The Supreme Court's decision to overturn Section 66A not only gave free expression in India a fresh lease of life, but it also served as the country's constitutional court and provided the law's unusual and better clarity.

    It is incorrect to claim that section 66A has given rise to new offences because many sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Information Technology Act are sufficient to handle all these linked wrongdoings. After a brief examination of S. 66 A of the Information Technology Act and its validity in light of A. 19 of the Indian Constitution, it is therefore determined that a nation that strives to be a democracy should not come into conflict with S. 66 A.

    • Romesh Thapper vs. State of Madras A.I.R 1950
    • Information Technology Act 2000
    • Article 19 of the UDHR
    • Sakal Papers (P) Ltd., And Others vs The Union A.I.R 1962

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