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Shreya Singhal (2015) Judgment: Analysis

In this case there were two girls named as Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan lived in Thane, Mumbai. In year 2012, when the Shivsena leader Bal Thackrey died, there was bandh in the city. The two girls showed their objection regarding bandh. One girl posted her objection on social media, and the other girl liked and supported her post. The other day, Mumbai police arrested those both girls under section 66A of IT Act,2000.

Section 66A of IT Act, 2000 provides the provision for arresting the person who allegedly posts or sends any information or any character or any content on social media which is grossly offensive and menacing in nature for causing annoyance, nuisance, hatred, danger and inconvenience via. Computer resource or any communication device. Under this section, the guilty shall be punishable with maximum three years of imprisonment with fine.

Later on, the two arrested women released and in year 2013, the petitioner filed a writ petition Public Interest under Article 32 of the Constitution of India to declare the section 66A, section 69 and section 79 of IT Act,2000 invalid.

The petitioner felt that the police had misused its powers by invoking section 66A of IT Act, 2000 and violates their fundamental right of the freedom of speech and expression given under Article 19(1)(a) of Constitution of India and not saved by any provisions given under Article 19(2).

The petitioner seeks to declare section 66A, section 69 and section 79 of IT Act, 2000 unconstitutional on the ground that the diction of these above sections of IT act, 2000 are so broad and vague in nature to understand the objective. Whereas, on the other side the clauses are arbitrary in nature which gave unnecessary powers to the public authority. And most of the other peoples also suffering from misusing these sections unnecessarily.

Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India provides fundamental right of free speech and expression to its citizens. The freedom to speech and expression means to express one's own thoughts, ideas and opinions freely by mouth, writing, printing or pictures. Freedom to speech and expression is the right given to express one's opinion freely without any interruption.

Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression:
Right to freedom of speech and expression has no geographical limitation and moves with a citizen's right to collect information and exchange ideas with others, not only in India but also in abroad.[1]

Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India imposed some reasonable restrictions on exercising the subject of freedom to speech and expressions on some exceptional purposes where it has been found that article 19(1)(a) is not absolute in nature.

The leaders of the Indian Independence movement attached special significance to the freedom of speech and expression which included freedom of press apart from other freedoms. During their struggle for freedom they were moved by the American Bill of Rights containing the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America which guaranteed the freedom of the press.[2]

Section 66A:
This provision of IT Act 2000 provides the detention of the guilty who with false information posts or sends any content which is offensive in nature, to create nuisance or annoyance in public viz., computer resource or any communication or electronic device. Offence under this section shall be punishable with imprisonment up to 3 years with fine.

Section 69:
When any cognizable offence has been committed to or for preventing incitement to the commission of any offence which is against the interest of the nation or the society then by the order of Central Government or by State Government or by any officer appointed by Central Government or by State Government can  intercept, monitor or decrypt any information generated by any computer resource or electronic device or any communication device.

Section 79:
Section 79 of Information Technology Act 2000 provides that under certain conditions, an intermediary shall not be liable for any third-party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted by him. This section[i] paves way for exemption to the intermediary.

Under this section, the expression ‘third party information' to mean any information dealt with by an intermediary in his capacity as an intermediary.

Case Judgment:

In Shreya Singhal v U.O.I case, the Hon'ble SC held that the section is unconstitutional as they swept the right to freedom of speech directly and vanishing the freedom of free speech from the people.

As the Hon'ble Court held that Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 unconstitutional as this provision struck down in its entirety being violative of Article 19(1)(a) and not saved under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India.

And Section 69A and the Information Technology (Procedure & Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009 are constitutionally valid as for the security of nation or for the people of the society, the Central Government or the State Government ,in writing the reason, can block the access of information for preventing cognizable offence.

Section 79 is valid subject to Section 79(3)(b) being read down to mean that an intermediary upon receiving actual knowledge from a court order or on being notified by the appropriate government or its agency that unlawful acts relatable to Article 19(2) are going to be committed then fails to expeditiously remove or disable access to such material. Similarly, the Information Technology Intermediary Guidelines Rules, 2011 are valid subject to Rule 3 sub-rule (4) being read down in the same manner as indicated in the judgment'.[3]

The Hon'ble Court also stated about the arbitrary powers of the administration. The administrative authorities do not take any kind of shed under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India.

The Hon'ble Court held that those provisions which affect the right people to express their thoughts either by speaking, writing, press, pictures or by any mode should be held invalid. Many provisions or statutes having vague meaning shall be struck down immediately as they harm the societies by misleading the administrators.

In Shreya Singhal v U.O.I case, the Hon'ble court gave the Doctrine of Severability Rule. The court held that it is not necessary to strike whole provision or statute invalid as under that statute or provision is vague. In this situation the Doctrine of Severability Rule must be applied. The only part of the provision or statute which is vague or uncertain in meaning shall be held invalid only.

In the Constitution of India some fundamental rights are given to the citizens of the respected country. One of its provision gave the people a Right of Free Speech and Expression under Article 19(1)(a). Right to Freedom of speech and expression is the backbone of the Indian Democracy. India is the democratic country and a very good example of democracy among all the countries. So, it is very important to save the right of speech and expression to maintain the integrity of the country.

Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.' These are the few words said by John Milton, an English poet.
Freedom of speech has considered as the one of the most essential condition of the liberty. It is considered as the mother of all other liberties. Freedom of speech is not only the fundamental right which has been given under the Constitution but also by various International Conventions such as Universal Declaration of Human Rights, European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.[4]

Although, in this case it was unfair arrest of the two innocent girls by the administering authorities. As the two girls only expressed their thoughts on Facebook. The two girls did not post any hate speech which create hatred among the public. As the provisions and statutes were vague or uncertain in meaning which create confusion and mislead the administrators.

In my opinion, the legislative authority should make some more provisions or statutes which is not vague and can be easily understandable by the public in the area of technology. As technology take its larger steps in the whole world and with the development of technology around the world, cyber-crimes are also increasing in number. Crimes are easily originating through computers like hacking, copyright infringement, sextortion, child pornography, child grooming, fraud, identity theft, financial theft, cyber terrorism, stalking, financial theft, etc. There is need to make statutes or provisions explicitly regarding the cyber platform.

Cyber area does not originate crimes only, but also provide a platform of opportunities to the people to express their own thoughts and connect the integrity among the people.

Although, I am in support with this judgment given by Chelameswar J. and Rohinton Fali Nariman J. because the contend provisions are vague and arbitrary in nature. And by taking it's shed the police were arresting innocent people and violated people's fundamental right of free speech, which is given under the Constitution of India and forbid the public authority to not to violate the basic fundamental rights of the respected citizens. It is the duty of the public authorities to maintain and execute the law in the society and not to break the laws.

  1. Maneka Gandhi v Union of India, (1978)2 S.C.R.621
  2. Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay)(P) Ltd. v U.O.I, (1985)1 SCC 641
  3. Shreya Singhal v U.O.I, AIR 2015 SC 1523

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