With the Supreme Court striking down Section 66 A of the Information and Technology Act on Tuesday, internet users in the city have unanimously welcomed the judgement and claim that their ‘Freedom of Speech’ has been restored.
“This was much-needed, as any attempt to curb our freedom of speech must be shunned. Social media is a vast area and to put someone behind bars for using abusive language is ridiculous,” expressed Mahima Prasad, who works at a startup.
Echoing her views, Ashwin Athrey, an engineering student, says, “A lot of comments which are made on social networking platforms are condemnable, and I agree there are certainly some things which people may find offensive. However, each person has a right to voice their opinion and the court was right to pass this judgement that gives people the right to speak their mind.”
Sri Vidya, a Journalism studunt from Osmania University calls “Section 66 A a useless section which somehow ended up being convenient for political parties to snub anyone who went against them.”
Although most young internet users hailed the court’s decision, parents are much more circumspect as they fear this could further spur users to use expletives at will. “As it is some of the language that we see as comments on social media are simply abhorrent. Now it will get even worse and is not a right thing for children to get exposed to such kind of language. It creates an adverse impact on them,” observes K Vasantha, a homemaker.
And there are others who fear lack of reasonable restraint and meaningful regulation, with the death of the section, might possibly have more adverse impacts. “In principle doing away with 66 A is welcome but it can lead to abuse by fundamentalists and others with vested interest,” says Jasveen Jairath, an activist.
Vincent, University of Hyderabad student union leader says he has mixed feelings about the apex court’s decision. “With the section not there anymore, marginalised communities are likely to bear the brunt. With mainstream media being selective in its attention, often several issues are highlighted by the social media. With no restraints now, issues like inciting communal hatred, morphing of pictures, etc., might not get registered as crimes,” he rues.
Supriya Ghosh, an advocate feels that doing away with the section will increase the chances of misuse. “Those wanting to defame others will be encouraged. One person’s freedom of speech should not affect others’ and by striking down the section this protection is lost,” she says. Supriya also points out that the judgement is not “democratic” because there is no such curtailment on the print or electronic media. “The outreach of these media is at grassroot level while cyber sphere is still limited in its reach,” the lawyer says.
Jasveen and Supriya urge that there is need to regulate online media and such a law should be reflective of the mentality of civil society. “Any criticism or discussion should happen in parliamentary language,” opines Jasveen.
What is Section 66 A?
Section 66A of the Information and Technology Act gives power to the police to arrest people for posting offensive content on social media. The controversial provision also prescribed a punishment for sending or posting “offensive” messages on social networking sites through computers, mobile phones or tablets or any communication device, up to three years.