‘A safe Internet and a free Internet can co-exist’

by Prasad Krishna last modified Mar 25, 2015 03:58 PM
Striking down of 66A kicked off celebrations in the IT capital.
‘A safe Internet and a free Internet can co-exist’

Bengaluru, often called the information technology capital of the country, can stake claim for some of the legwork, with many from the city having either campaigned for the cause or took part in the PIL. Photo:

The article was published in the Hindu on March 25, 2015. Sunil Abraham is quoted.


Social media was celebrating on Tuesday. “Such a party going on on Twitter today #66A!” said one exuberant user, while another put a rap on it: “Made an FB post and didn’t go to jail. I gotta say today was a good day.” Another group was quick to point though: “Enjoy the freedom “responsibly!"

The day the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, those who had consistently termed it a “tyrannical” and “draconian” legal provision did a victory lap, calling it a “triumph for free speech in India”. Bengaluru, often called the information technology capital of the country, can stake claim for some of the legwork, with many from the city having either campaigned for the cause or took part in the PIL.

MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, one of the litigants, said, “A free and fair Internet is crucial for innovation, connection and economic growth. By repealing section 66A, India is now ready for a technological leap. A safe Internet and a free Internet can co-exist, and the government should now draft carefully worded amendments that enable this co-existence.”

Stating that the Section was more your foe than a friend, cyber law expert Pavan Duggal said, “Section 66A symbolised the tyranny of ambiguous vague terms over the purity of legitimate free speech. It represented a tool for suppressing bonafide free speech, which was extensively misused. Freedom of speech and expression on the Internet is sacrosanct and only subject to reasonable restrictions given under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India.”

Intermediaries

Sunil Abraham, Executive Director of the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), said there were other positives in the landmark judgement.

“For the first time since the 1960s, the SC has struck down a section of law deeming it unconstitutional. Section 79 gave an adjudicatory position to intermediaries (such as Facebook, Twitter or bloggers). They were liable if they took the wrong decision or if they did not act on ‘take down’ requests within 36 hours. Now they are immune either way,” he explained. He said small-time bloggers, newspapers, and open source encyclopaedia, such as Wikipedia, will now be protected.

‘Retain spirit of Section 66A(b)’

K.V. Aditya Bharadwaj

Bengaluru: While even cops handling cyber crimes have welcomed scrapping sub-sections (a) and (c) of Section 66A of IT Act, 2000, they make a case for retaining the spirit of sub-section (b) in an amended law expected to be brought in shortly.

Section 66A(b) deals with a person sending out messages using electronic medium, which he knows to be false. It was under this provision that cops booked rumour-mongers who spread hatred messages through WhatsApp and other social media, which was scrapped.

A classic case was the one were two men were arrested for sending out provocative WhatsApp messages in July 2012, leading to an exodus of North-East Indians from the city. “Similar baseless WhatsApp messages led to chaos after the December 2014 Church Street blast and D.K. Ravi’s death. Even twitter was abuzz with parody profiles and fake claims made by people after the bomb blast. Rumour mongering and sending provocative messages have turned out to be a major area of concern in urban centres,” said a senior official.

An official said that in the absence of Section 66A(b), such rumour-mongers could only be booked under the Karnataka Police Act, which carries a very light punishment.

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