In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court of India held Section 66A of Information Technology Act as unconstitutional in its entirety as it allowed police to arrest anyone posting ‘annoying’ or ‘offensive’ content over internet.
“….Section 66A purports to authorize the imposition of restrictions on the fundamental right contained in Article 19(1)(a) in language wide enough to cover restrictions both within and without the limits of constitutionally permissible legislative action”, the Court said, adding that the possibility of Section 66A being applied for purposes not sanctioned
by the Constitution cannot be ruled out, and therefore, be held to be wholly unconstitutional and void.
The Court ruled against Section 66A on the ground that the terms “annoying, offensive, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill-will” used in the Section were vague and indefinite.
“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 Court observed.
The Court turned down a plea to strike down sections 69A and 79 of the Act, which deal with the procedure and safeguards for blocking certain websites and exemption from liability of intermediaries in certain cases respectively.
The Court also termed as unconstitutional Section 118(d) of the Kerala Police Act.
“What has been said about Section 66A would apply directly to Section 118(d) of the Kerala Police Act, as causing annoyance in an indecent manner suffers from the same type of vagueness and over breadth, that led to the invalidity of Section 66A, and for the reasons given for striking down Section 66A, Section 118(d) also violates Article 19(1)(a) and not being a reasonable restriction on the said right and not being saved under any of the subject matters contained in Article 19(2) is hereby declared to be unconstitutional,” it opined.