In a landmark move, the Narendra Modi government on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that posting messages related to freedom of expression on Twitter or Facebook will not be considered an offence. The statement came amid a spurt in arrests for the same.
There were some "aberrations amounting to abuse" of Section 66A of the Information and Technology Act, the government admitted. The court is conducting a hearing into a number of PILs which challenged constitutional validity of the section under the IT Act which allowed holding up people for "annoying, inconvenient and dangerous messages" on social media; there was no leeway made for freedom of expression.
It is worth noting that the court had earlier intimated the Centre that it would make defunct certain contentious provisions of the IT Act often called upon by authorities to check free speech on social media, if it failed to delineate its stand during the hearing, reports India Today.
"Of course we have kept the rules under the IT Act a bit flexible in view of the kind of offences being committed online like spread of hate and various other cyber crimes. Everyday new technology is coming. There are criminals using the sites intending various offences. However, the Union government does not wish to curb freedom of expression. Exercising one's freedom of speech won't be an offence, but this law applies to cyber crimes," General Tushar Mehta, Additional Solicitor, told a bench headed by Justice J. Chelameswar.
Mehta said a panel had been formed to come up with ways of protecting freedom of speech and preventing misuse of the law by authorities.
Some of the issues brought up by him were:
- The arrest of Ambikesh Mahapatra in April 2012, a chemistry professor from Jadavpur University in West Bengal, who had posted a cartoon of Mamata Banerjee on networking sites.
- The arrests of two Air India employees in Mumbai for posting content on Facebook against some politicians.
- The arrest of businessman Ravi Srinivasan in October 2012 by the Puducherry police for having made allegations on Twitter against Karti Chidambaram of Congress, son of former finance minister P. Chidambaram.