'Section 66A's scrapping victory for free speech'

Bengaluru, March 25: Scrapping of the Information Technology (IT) Act’s draconian section 66A by the Supreme Court was a victory for free speech proponents and citizens, lawmaker and a petitioner in the contentious case Rajeev Chandrasekhar said here on Tuesday. Hailing the top court for its landmark judgement, the Rajya Sabha member from Kartaka told IANS that the government would do well in holding discussions with all stakeholders before framing a new law, keeping in view the changing technology, to safeguard a citizen’s freedom of speech and expression.

“The government will have to draft a new section, which will not be misused as was done with section 66A. In regulating the use of technology, one’s right to express freely should be respected and not punished,” he said. The apex court struck down section 66A as violative of the constitution’s article 19 (1)(a), which guaranteeing freedom of speech and expression to citizens. “We need to bring a new law that is modern and progressive, as the IT Act of 2000 was amended in 2008, incorporating the dreaded section 66A,” Chandrashekhar said.

Section 66A, since its institution in 2008, has crimilised innocuous acts in which citizens have exercised their constitutiol right to expression over the internet, on vague and arbitrary grounds of being “grossly offensive” or for “causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction and insult”.

In the public interest litigation (PIL) he filed in January 2013, the city-based technology entrepreneur challenged the section on the grounds that it violated a citizen’s right to freedom of expression, enshrined in article 19. “In modern times, a free and fair internet is crucial for innovation, connection and economic growth. By repealing the section (66A), India is ready for a technological leap, which the government’s Digital India programme shall foster,” he said.

“Section 66A had crimilised internet activity without defining the gravity of the offence or crime. The relevant section was applied or invoked by the executive without verifying the antecedents of its victim,” he noted. On concerns raised about online safety and security, Chandrasekhar said a safe internet and a free internet could co-exist and the government should draft carefully worded amendments that eble this co-existence. Chandrasekhar said tried to get the adraconian’ section scrapped during the UPA-2 government through its IT Minister Kapil Sibal, but did not succeed. “Though Sibal assured us in parliament after a debate on the section that public consultation and multi-stakeholder discussions would be held to create a new section, nothing happened and the relevant section remained as part of the law,” he said. Calling upon the NDA government to initiate a dialogue with all the stakeholders on bringing a new rule, the parliamentarian said law enforcing people, non-government organizations (NGOs) from civil society and IT experts should be consulted to draft the new section with intermediary guidelines that prevent abuse of the internet but protect the right to expression. (IANS)

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