Section 66A I.T. Act; Shreya Singhal Vs. Union of India [Supreme Court of India, 24-03-2015]

Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 is struck down in its entirety being violative of Article 19(1)(a) and not saved under Article 19(2).


IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CRIMINAL/CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION

(J. Chelameswar) and (R.F. Nariman) JJ.

March 24, 2015

WRIT PETITION (CRIMINAL) NO.167 OF 2012

SHREYA SINGHAL … PETITIONER VERSUS UNION OF INDIA … RESPONDENT

WITH

WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.21 OF 2013 WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.23 OF 2013 WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 97 OF 2013 WRIT PETITION (CRIMINAL) NO.199 OF 2013 WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 217 OF 2013 WRIT PETITION (CRIMINAL) NO.222 OF 2013 WRIT PETITION (CRIMINAL) NO.225 OF 2013 WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.758 OF 2014 WRIT PETITION (CRIMINAL) NO.196 OF 2014

J U D G M E N T

R.F. NARIMAN, J.

1. This batch of writ petitions filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India raises very important and far-reaching questions relatable primarily to the fundamental right of free speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. The immediate cause for concern in these petitions is Section 66A of the Information Technology Act of 2000. This Section was not in the Act as originally enacted, but came into force by virtue of an Amendment Act of 2009 with effect from 27.10.2009. Since all the arguments raised by several counsel for the petitioners deal with the unconstitutionality of this Section it is set out hereinbelow:

66-A. Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc.

Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,—

(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or

(b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device; or

(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.

Explanation.— For the purposes of this section, terms “electronic mail” and “electronic mail message” means a message or information created or transmitted or received on a computer, computer system, computer resource or communication device including attachments in text, image, audio, video and any other electronic record, which may be transmitted with the message.”

1 The genealogy of this Section may be traced back to Section 10(2)(a) of the U.K. Post Office (Amendment) Act, 1935, which made it an offence to send any message by telephone which is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene, or menacing character. This Section was substantially reproduced by Section 66 of the UK Post Office Act, 1953 as follows:

66. Prohibition of sending offensive or false telephone messages or false telegrams, etc.

If any person—

(a) sends any message by telephone which is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character;

(b)sends any message by telephone, or any telegram, which he knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to any other person ; or

(c) persistently makes telephone calls without reasonable cause and for any such purpose as aforesaid, he shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding ten pounds, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month, or to both.

This Section in turn was replaced by Section 49 of the British Telecommunication Act, 1981 and Section 43 of the British Telecommunication Act, 1984. In its present form in the UK, it is Section 127 of the Telecommunication Act, 2003 which is relevant and which is as follows:-

127. Improper use of public electronic communications network

(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he –

(a) sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; or

(b) cause any such message or matter to be so sent.

2. A related challenge is also made to Section 69A introduced by the same amendment which reads as follows:-

69-A. Power to issue directions for blocking for public access of any information through any computer resource.

(1) Where the Central Government or any of its officers specially authorised by it in this behalf is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient so to do, in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above, it may subject to the provisions of sub-section (2), for reasons to be recorded in writing, by order, direct any agency of the Government or intermediary to block for access by the public or cause to be blocked for access by the public any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource.

(2) The procedure and safeguards subject to which such blocking for access by the public may be carried out, shall be such as may be prescribed.

(2) A person is guilty of an offence if, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another, he-

(a) sends by means of a public electronic communications network, a message that he knows to be false,

(b) causes such a message to be sent; or

(c) persistently makes use of a public electronic communications network.

(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both.

(4) Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply to anything done in the course of providing a programme service (within the meaning of the Broadcasting Act 1990 (c.42)).

(3) The intermediary who fails to comply with the direction issued under sub-section (1) shall be punished with an imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine.”

3. The Statement of Objects and Reasons appended to the Bill which introduced the Amendment Act stated in paragraph 3 that: