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SC ditches ‘Facebook’ arrest rules

Apex court strikes down Section 66A of IT Act, terms it ‘unconstitutional’

New Delhi: In a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a controversial provision in the cyber law providing for arrest for posting allegedly “offensive” content on websites saying, it is “unconstitutional” and has a “chilling effect” on freedom of speech and expression.
The apex court also held that the expressions used in Section 66A of the Information and Technology Act, which had been used by various administrations against inconvenient posts in the cyber space, are “completely open-ended and undefined”.
However, the bench turned down the plea to strike down section 69A and Section 79 of the Act which deal with the procedure and safeguards for blocking sites and exemption from liability of intermediaries in certain cases respectively.
It is clear that the impugned provision of Sec 66A “arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately” invades the right of free speech and upsets balance between such right and reasonable restrictions that may be imposed, the court held.
The provision, which had come under the scanner of the court after two Mumbai girls were arrested for posting and liking a comment on Facebook relating to shutdown in the city following Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray’s death, was also invoked recently against a youth in Uttar Pradesh for his post on the state minister Azam Khan.
The court examined the validity of the provision by referring to various aspects relating to the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 (1) (a) and 19 (2) of the Constitution which deals with reasonable restrictions and its impact on Article 14 and 21 which relate to the right to equality and personal liberty respectively.
While quashing section 66A, which was brought through an amendment by previous UPA government and defended by present NDA regime, a bench of justices J Chelameswar and R F Nariman said, “Incidentally, none of the expressions used in Section 66A are defined.(PTI)

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