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SC Reserves Verdict on Pleas Against IT Act Provisions

Published: 26th February 2015 06:32 PM  |   Last Updated: 26th February 2015 06:32 PM   |  A+A-

By PTI

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court today reserved its verdict on a batch of petitions challenging constitutional validity of certain sections of the cyber law including a provision under which a person can be arrested for allegedly posting "offensive" contents on websites.    

A bench of justices J Chelameswar and R F Nariman reserved their judgement after Government concluded its arguments contending that section 66A of the Information Technology Act cannot be "quashed" merely because of the possibility of its "abuse".   

Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said Government does not want to curtail the freedom of speech and expression at all which is enshrined in the Constitution, but the vast cyber world cannot be allowed to remain unregulated.   

"The terms like 'illegal', 'grossly offensive' and 'menacing character' are vague expressions and these words are likely to be misunderstood and abused," the bench said.            

The court also referred to the judgements, cited by the ASG earlier, pronounced by various courts in England on term 'grossly offensive' and said, "when judicially trained minds can arrive on different conclusions by analyzing the same facts then how can it be said that this term will not be abused."   

"These are the terms, incapable of being defined in a precise and objective manner," the ASG replied, adding that there are several other terms in the IPC which suffer from the same problem.         

"The term like 'outraging the modesty of a woman' (in IPC) has been construed differently in a given situation by various courts," the law officer said.          

At the outset, the ASG referred to various case laws and prevalent practices across the country to regulate 'offensive' contents on websites and other internet mediums.        He said that social networking sites like Facebook has appointed 'grievance officer' for looking into the offensive contents and complaints against them.  

"Looking into the number of complaints, it is again an unworkable solution," the bench said.    Additional Solicitor General P S Narsimha, appearing for Kerala government, said that over a period of time various fundamental rights including freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) has been interpreted in "dynamic" manner by the courts.            

"Similarly, Article 19(2), which provides that reasonable restrictions can be imposed on freedom of speech and expression, also needs to be interpreted in a dynamic manner," he said.     

Earlier, the Centre had told the court that absence of any regulatory mechanism in the cyber world demands higher level of restrictions to put checks and balances on social networking sites.    

ASG Mehta had said though it is not possible to regulate Internet, the legislature should be given leeway for framing rules in the absence of institutional control over the medium where an individual is a boss himself.         

The submission was made during the hearing of a batch of petitions challenging constitutional validity of several provisions of the Act.    Some of the petitions seek setting aside of section 66A of the Information Technology Act which empowers police to arrest a person for allegedly posting offensive materials on social networking sites.      

The first PIL on the issue was filed in 2012 by a law student Shreya Singhal, who sought amendment in Section 66A of the Act, after two girls -- Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Shrinivasan -- were arrested in Palghar in Thane district as one of them posted a comment against the shutdown in Mumbai following Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray's death and the other 'liked' it.       

The apex court had in 2013 said a person, accused of posting objectionable comments on social networking sites, cannot be arrested without police getting permission from senior officers.      

The direction had come in the wake of numerous complaints of harassment and arrests, sparking public outrage.        

It had, however, refused to pass an interim order for a blanket ban on the arrest of such persons across the country.   

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