Shreya Singhal v. UOI [AIR 2015 SC 1523]

Section 66A of IT Act is in contravention of the provisions of Article 19 of the Constitution and hence was struck down by the court.

Bench – J. Chelameswar, Rohinton Fali Nariman.

Facts – The police authorities made an arrest of two women for making an offensive and objectionable comment on the social media platform of Facebook, regarding the prudence of closing down the whole city of Mumbai following the demise of a political leader. These arrests were made under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act of 2000 which penalizes any individual sending across grossly offensive information by a computer system or any other device of communication with such knowledge of it being false with the intent of inducing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, hatred, ill will, insult or injury.

Despite the fact that the women were ultimately released and their charges were dropped, the episode drew widespread media attention and outrage. The women then petitioned contesting Section 66A’s constitutional legitimacy, claiming that it infringes on their right to freedom of expression.

Issues –

  • Whether Section 66A, 69A as well as 79 of the Information Technology Act hold constitutional validity or not?
  • Whether Section 66A of IT Act is contravening the provisions of Article 19 of the Constitution or not?

Judgment – According to the court, “every expression used is ambiguous in meaning.” What is offensive to one person may not be offensive to another.” As a result, the interpretation was deemed to be subjective, and it was ruled by the court that 66A of the IT Act 2000 is a violation of the right to free speech and expression under Article 19 (1). It also does not have the requirement to get a safeguard of reasonable restriction set forth in Article 19. (2).

It was decided by the court that the language which has been used in Section 66A of IT Act is absolutely open-ended and undefined. Therefore it cannot be covered under Article 19 (2). The court adjudged that Section 66A had no immanent correlation or tie to causing public disorder or incitement of commitment of an offence and hence was overturned. The court’s strategy was to safeguard the fundamental right to free speech and expression, stating that no law can strip away it by asserting a defence under Article 19(2) of Constitution.

The court applied the rule of severability and only struck down the part of the legislation which was constitutionally invalid while saving the other parts. It ruled that Section 69A of the IT Act is a provision which encases a number of safeguards and is not unconstitutional in nature. Even if the rules do not contain additional safeguards, such as in Section 95 and 96 of CrPC, then also they cannot be termed as constitutionally invalid.

The court also upheld the validity of Section 79 of the Act while striking down Section 118 (d) of Kerala Police Act on the grounds that it violates the provisions enshrined in Article 19 (1) (a) and is not protected under the safeguard of Article 19 (2).

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