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Internet censorship will continue in opaque fashion

A division bench of the Supreme Court has ruled on three sections of the Information Technology Act 2000 - Section 66A, Section 79 and Section 69A. The draconian Section 66A was originally meant to tackle spam and cyber-stalking but was used by the powerful elite to crack down on online dissent and criticism.

The article by Sunil Abraham was published in the Times of India on March 25, 2015.

Section 79 was meant to give immunity to internet intermediaries for liability emerging from third-party speech, but it had a chilling effect on free speech because intermediaries erred on the side of caution when it came to deciding whether the content was legal or illegal.

And Section 69A was the web blocking or internet censorship provision, but the procedure prescribed did not adhere to the principles of natural justice and transparency. For instance, when books are banned by courts, the public is informed of such bans but when websites are banned in India, there's no clear message from the Internet Service Provider.

The Supreme Court upheld 69A, so web blocking and internet censorship in India will continue to happen in an opaque fashion which is worrying. But on 66A and 79, the landmark judgment protects the right to free speech and expression. It struck down 66A in entirety, saying the vague and imprecise language made the provision unconstitutional and it interfered with "the right of the people to know - the market place of ideas - which the internet provides to persons of all kinds". However, it only read down Section 79 saying "unlawful acts beyond what is laid down" as reasonable restrictions to the right to free speech in the Constitution "obviously cannot form any part" of the section. In short, the court has eliminated any additional restrictions for speech online even though it admitted that the internet is "intelligibly different" from traditional media and might require additional laws to be passed by the Indian Parliament."