By:- Pragya Shukla
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
|NAME OF THE CASE||SHREYA SINGHAL v/s UNION OF INDIA|
|JURISDICTION||SUPREME COURT OF INDIA|
|CITATION||AIR 2015, SC 1523|
|DATE OF THE CASE||24th MARCH 2015|
|RESPONDENT||UNION OF INDIA|
|BENCH/ JUDGE||JUSTICE R.F. NARIMAN, JUSTICE J. CHELAMESWAR|
|STATUES/ CONSTITUTION INVOLVED||INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY ACT, 2000, THE CONSTITUTION OF INDIA|
|IMPORTANT SECTIONS/ ARTICLES||SECTION 66 A OF THE ITA,2000, ARTICLES 14,19,19(1)(a) & 19(2) OF THE INDIAN CONSTITUTION|
Section 66A deals with the punishment for sending offensive messages through communication services. Shreya Singhal vs Union of India is a case in which the Supreme Court of India invalidated section 66A of the (Information Technology Act, 2000), as a whole. The plaintiffs, in this case, asserted that section 66A was unconstitutionally vague, and the protection against the annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstacles, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, or that it’s a bad thing, has been excluded from the scope of the permissible limits referred to in Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution. The court agreed that the ban on the dissemination of information by means of a computer resource or a communication device, which is intended to cause annoyance, discomfort, or violations that do not fall within a reasonable exception to the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and freedom of expression. In addition, it was found that, as the clause is a failure to define terms, such as public nuisance, or cause annoyance, “a very large number of sheltered and innocent voice,” to be reduced, and thus the front was too broad and too vague.
Over the past few years, there have been a lot of cases affiliating with the transfer of nasty information by the means of a computer resource or a communication device causing the state of “disorder,” “discomfort,” or “stumbling block.” In a decision written by Justice R. F. Nariman, at the behest of the bank, consisting of himself and Justice J. Chelameswar, the Court declared that section 66A is not just a vague or arbitrary, it also has “a disproportionate interference with the right to freedom of opinion and freedom of expression.”
Shreya Singhal v Union of India, (2015), is a landmark case that plays a very important role in the Indian legal system. The case is about the fundamental nature of the right to freedom of expression in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. It basically challenged the constitutional validity of section 66A, which led to the wreck of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Section 66A deals with the punishment for sending offensive messages through communication services, etc.
According to Sec 66A of(Information Technology Act, 2000), any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device-
(a) any information which is blatantly offensive or threatening in nature; or
(b) any information which he knows is wrong, however, in order to cause annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstacles, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will uses such computer resource or a communication device,
(c) any electronic mail or e-mail message for the sole purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience to deceive and mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages,
shall be punished by a term of imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years along with the imposition of a fine.
This case basically concerns itself with the restrictions on Freedom of speech and expression.
BACKGROUND OF THE CASE: –
- There was a Bandh declared by the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, the death of the political leader of the Bal Thakery.
- Two little girls -Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan expressed their displeasure at the bandh by posting a comment on Facebook.
- They were arrested by the Mumbai Police immediately, in accordance with article 66 of the Information Technology Act, for the sake of the post, and register for a response, which can be the cause of irritation, & hatred in the minds of the public at large.
- Fast, the girls were released, but then it went to a great public protest, and the attention of the media, claiming that it violates the right to freedom of Expression guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitution.
- It was also said that the police are abusing their power, and by the invocation of article 66 of the I. T Act, which allows police to investigate the cases provided without warranty of any kind. This has led to a major arrest of innocent people, just because they express their views and visions, which, according to the Government, it was Distasteful Content.
- After this incident, in 2013, the Central Government issued an advisory on the basis of which a person may be arrested without a prior written approval of the Inspector-General of Police. A wide variety of applications that have been submitted in accordance with Article 32 of the constitution challenging the validity of section 66 – A of the I. T act, as amended.
- The supreme court strucked all of this is in (P. I. L), and the case has been referred to as the Shreya Singhal vs. union of India.
FACTS OF THE CASE: –
- The main issue was whether section 66A of the ITA had been otherwise violated while imparting the right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression, as guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. As an exception to the law), Article 19(2) permits the government to impose reasonable restrictions and limitations . . . in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, security of State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt, court, defamation or incitement to an offence.”
- The plaintiffs asserted that section 66A is unconstitutional, because the proposed protection from annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstacles, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, or when they are ill, this is outside the scope of application of Article 19, paragraph 2). They also argued that the law was unconstitutionally vague if it does not explicitly define it, is strictly prohibited. In addition, they argued that the law was a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression.
- The government, on the other hand, argued that the legislature is in the best position to satisfy the needs of the people and the courts are not to interfere with the proper working of the legislative process, which is “an act, it is clearly in conflict with the rights granted to its citizens, in accordance with Part III of the Constitution” [doc. 6] the government argued that the mere presence of abuse of a provision is not a basis for declaring that the rule is contrary to the constitution of the country.
- The government also believed that the language of the act could not be a ground for nullity, as the law is concerned with the methods, the disturbance of the rights of the people are using the internet.
ISSUE RAISED BEFORE THE COURT: –
Subsequent issues were raised before the court –
1)Whether Section 66A of the Information Technology Act,2000 is constitutionally valid or not?
2)Whether Section 66A of Information Technology Act, 2000 violated the Fundamental Right to Freedom of Speech & Expression or not?
3)Whether the vagueness of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act,2000 can be a ground to declare any statute unconditional especially when it’s not arbitrary in nature?
- Arguments raised by Petitioner: –
- In the first, the plea of the petitioner was that the Article 66A of the ITA, 2000, is at odds with the Fundamental nature of the Right to freedom of expression and the freedom of Expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of the country.
- Freedom of speech is fundamental to a democracy. “In Ramesh Thapar vs State of Madhya Pradesh , Shashtri observed that Freedom of Speech & of Press lay at the foundation of all democratic organization, for without free political discussion no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of process of popular government is possible.”
- The next contention of the petitioner was that the terminology which is used in section 66-A of the act to cause nuisance, annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstacles, and insult, do not fall under the soil with a Reasonable Limitation of the right to freedom of Expression provided for in paragraph 2 of Article 19.
- The next contention of the petitioner was that section 66 was unacceptable because of the nature of the terms and conditions set forth in it and is often construed in different ways by different people, depending on their whims and desires. What is offensive to one, might not be the fault of the other.
- Therefore, the petitioner also argued that the topic is not clearly defined, it must be unconstitutional, and should be declared, through the Supreme court.
- The last objection was, that the section 66, had been a violation of Article 14 of the Constitution, and there is no intelligible differentia between the people who use the internet as a medium of communication, as well as to others, who, with the help of other means of transport. There is a risk in order to make a ranking among the people, and the citizens of that country, and of the punishment of the users, in accordance with article 66, the expression of their opinion, and events
- Arguments raised by Respondent: –
- The Respondent argued that the constitutional validity of section 66, and noted that the legislature is in the best position to understand and appreciate the needs of the people.
- The next objection is, that the mere possibility of abuse of this section, the police could not be a ground for declaring the section makes no sense.
- The other objection of the defendant was that the vagueness of the language cannot be accepted as a reason to lay down the statute unconstitutional by the articles of association. It must be authorized by the law.
- In addition, the language of the section does not contain all of the terms and conditions for a person to be able to use the internet to infringe upon the rights of others.
RELATED PROVISIONS: –
ARTICLE 66 A OF THE INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY ACT,2000-Section 66A defines the punishment for sending “offensive” messages from a pc or any other form of communication medium, such as a mobile phone or a tablet, enforcing three years ‘ imprisonment and a fine.
ARTICLE 14 OF THE INDIAN CONSTITUTION: –
Article 14 of the Constitution of India is as under: “the State shall not deny the right to equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.”
ARTICLE 19 OF THE INDIAN CONSTITUTION: –
It states that – “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right shall include freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
ARTICLE 19(1) (A):-
In India, freedom of the press has been suggested, in the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. Article 19(1)(a) states that all citizens shall have the right to freedom of expression and freedom of speech.
Article 19, paragraph 2, of the Constitution, authorizes the government to fully implement the law, reasonable restrictions on the freedom of expression “in the interest of the public.”
The supreme court agreed with the arguments of the plaintiffs and found that Sec 66 of the (ITA,2000), had a chilling effect on the freedom of speech, and the words that were used in it did not form a basis for the imposition of reasonable restrictions on the freedom. The language of section 66 A could lead to arrogance and therefore it would not be evil and injustice in the society, and, therefore, will need to be glued together.
The court also made a distinction between hate speech and freedom of expression. Hate speech is subjective by its nature. A friendly note can be brought under the preview of the speech. The court, referred to the three concepts that are fundamental to the concept of freedom of Expression and Speech- Debate, Advocacy and Action. It wasn’t a debate, or a point of view on a subject, in a limit of the promotion in violation of the restrictions on freedom in the implementation.
The court, however, denied the allegation of the petitioner that there is no intelligible differentia between the medium of communication through print, live, speech compared to speech on the internet. There is an intelligible differentia, because the internet is a platform to express our views free of charge, as opposed to any other medium for the communication of information. With the help of the internet, the information that reaches out to millions is just a matter of seconds.
Therefore, the contention of the petitioner dealt with the challenges of Article 14 of the Constitution.
The two-judge bench of the Supreme Court took a positive step in the direction of the protection of freedom of speech in the modern era, where millions of people are using the Internet as a means of communication to express their views. In order to declare that section 66A is unconstitutional, the court made it clear that the discussions and advice on a subject is quite important in order to facilitate the discovery of the truth of the matter, as well as to enable individuals to take part in the decision-making process.