Supreme Court scraps Sec­tion 66A of IT Act

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In a land­mark ver­dict, the Supreme Court has struck down Sec­tion 66A of the In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy Act, 2000, a con­tro­ver­sial and much-crit­i­cized pro­vi­sion in the cy­ber law that al­lowed the au­thor­i­ties to ar­rest any­one for post­ing al­legedly ‘of­fen­sive’ con­tent on web­sites. Terming it ‘un­con­sti­tu­tional, the court has said it has a ‘chill­ing ef­fect’ on free­dom of speech and ex­pres­sion.

The ver­dict comes as a re­lief for so­cial me­dia users as well as In­dia op­er­a­tions of global In­ter­net gi­ants like Google. The lat­ter will no longer be re­quired to take down con­tent af­ter com­plaints from any party. Only a gov­ern­ment or court or­der can lead to con­tent re­moval. The In­ter­net & Mo­bile As­so­ci­a­tion of In­dia, which counts Google, Mi­crosoft, eBay, IBM, Flip­kart and LinkedIn as mem­bers, said the rul­ing will en­cour­age more in­vest­ment in the In­ter­net sec­tor in In­dia.

Sec­tion 66A was in­serted into the IT Act by the UPA gov­ern­ment in 2009, but the Naren­dra Modi gov­ern­ment had largely de­fended the pro­vi­sion dur­ing the court hear­ing, while promis­ing it won't be used to sti­fle po­lit­i­cal dis­sent.

“Gov­ern­ments may come and gov­ern­ments may go but Sec­tion 66A goes on for­ever. An as­sur­ance from the present gov­ern­ment even if car­ried out faith­fully would not bind any suc­ces­sor gov­ern­ment. It must, there­fore, be held that Sec­tion 66A must be judged on its own mer­its with­out any ref­er­ence to how well it may be ad­min­is­tered,” the bench ob­served while strik­ing down the law. “...We, there­fore, hold that the sec­tion is un­con­sti­tu­tional also on the ground that it takes within its sweep pro­tected speech and speech that is in­no­cent in na­ture and is li­able there­fore to be used in such a way as to have a chill­ing ef­fect on free speech and would, there­fore, have to be struck down on the ground of over-breadth,” the bench said.

The gov­ern­ment can, how­ever, block on­line con­tent if it fol­lows pro­ce­dure un­der Sec­tion 69A which cre­ates a three-tier con­fi­den­tial mech­a­nism for block­ing. Per­sons ag­grieved by so­cial con­tent can ap­proach a nodal of­fi­cer in the In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy Depart­ment. The depart­ment’s re­view com­mit­tee will then ex­am­ine the post­ing, call the per­son who has posted it if he is iden­ti­fi­able, and then take a call on block­ing it. Only a des­ig­nated of­fi­cer can pass such or­ders.

Fur­ther, Sec­tion 79 is valid sub­ject to Sec­tion 79 (3) (b) be­ing read down to mean that an in­ter­me­di­ary upon re­ceiv­ing ac­tual knowl­edge from a court or­der or on be­ing no­ti­fied by the ap­pro­pri­ate gov­ern­ment or its agency that un­law­ful acts re­lat­able to Ar­ti­cle 19 (2) are go­ing to be com­mit­ted, then fails to ex­pe­di­tiously re­move or dis­able ac­cess to such ma­te­rial.

Court slams banks for fil­ing suits by fak­ing ju­ris­dic­tion

A Delhi court has slammed banks for fil­ing suits against cus­tomers at places miles away from their res­i­dence by ‘fak­ing’ ter­ri­to­rial ju­ris­dic­tion to al­legedly se­cure favourable or­ders. The court as­serts it is against ‘public pol­icy’ to ex­pect a cus­tomer or bor­rower to travel hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres away from their house only to fight a case at a place where he can­not be bound for any ac­tion.

Ad­di­tional Dis­trict Judge Kamini Lau’s ob­ser­va­tions came while dis­miss­ing an ap­peal filed by PSU Cor­po­ra­tion Bank claim­ing re­cov­ery of out­stand­ing amount from Jogin­der Pal Arora, a res­i­dent of Pun­jab, who had availed its credit card fa­cil­ity.

On the is­sue of ju­ris­dic­tion, the court said in the en­tire plaint filed by the bank there was noth­ing on record to sug­gest that Arora had ever ap­proached the bank or ap­plied for credit fa­cil­ity per­son­ally or through postal com­mu­ni­ca­tion in its Delhi of­fice. It also said that Arora, be­ing a res­i­dent of Ja­land­har, had used the credit-card fa­cil­ity in Pun­jab and not in Delhi.

The coun­sel ap­pear­ing for the bank told the court that the is­sue falls un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of court here as af­ter sanc­tion­ing of max­i­mum limit, the credit card was dis­patched to Arora from its Delhi of­fice.

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