This case is the landmark judgment which created a massive effect on the cyber laws of our country. It not only affected the cyber laws but elaborated the view of Article 19 of the constitution, which talks about Freedom of Speech and Expression. Let’s discuss the famous Shreya Singhal case in this blog!
Case name: Shreya Singhal vs Union of India
Citation: AIR 2015 SC 1523
Background of the Case
The entirety of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act of 2000 was declared unlawful by the Supreme Court of India. The petitioners claimed that Section 66A was unconstitutionally ambiguous and that the prohibitions allowed by Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution went beyond the protection it was designed to provide against annoyance, discomfort, danger, obstruction, insult, harm, and criminal intimidation. The Court concluded that there were no reasonable exceptions to the right to freedom of expression that applied to the prohibition against the transmission of material through a computer resource or a communication device intended to annoy, inconvenience, or insult. As a result of the provision's failure to define terms like inconvenience or annoyance, it was further determined that "a very considerable quantity of protected and innocent speech could be reduced and hence its sweep was vague and broad.
International Legislations relating to Freedom of Speech and Expression
Under Article 19 of the law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) guarantees the freedom of speech and expression. It affirms that everyone has the unalienable freedom to possess beliefs and opinions without interference. In addition to that, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) also protects the freedom of expression. "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of speech," it specifically states, "this right shall include freedom to seek, receive, and impart information of all sorts, independent of boundaries, either verbally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other means of his choice."
The United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously declared on July 5, 2012, that everyone's right to free speech and expression online must be protected. It was the first time the UN stated that online citizens' human rights ought to be protected in the same way they are in the physical world.
The Shreya Singhal case
Brief facts of the case
Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan were two girls who were detained by the Mumbai police in 2012. The arrest was made in response to the Shiv Sena members' bandh call in Maharashtra following the incident involving the murder of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackery. The petitioners were accused of publishing their comments on Facebook and loving them at the same time, which sparked a large-scale outcry from the general public. Section 66A of the IT Act of 2000, according to the petitioners by means of Public Interest, restricts an individual's freedom of speech and expression. The petition was filed under Article 32 of the Constitution.
- Are Sections 66-A, 69-A and 79 of the IT Act constitutionally valid?
- Does Section 66A of the IT Act violate the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression?
The right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution is violated by Article 66A of the IT Act 2000.
The petitioners stated that the reasonable restrictions mentioned under Article 19(2) of the Constitution do not apply to producing commotion, annoyance, and other similar behaviours.
Section 66A is ambiguous by nature, and an imperfection has been introduced by it since it does not adequately define the wording used in the section and leaves room for interpretations on the part of law enforcement agencies. As a result, the section does not contain or give the limitation.
The fact that there is no "Intelligible Differentia" as to why Provision-66 A is centred on merely modalities for communication, the section breaches Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. Self-discrimination is the result, which is prohibited under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
The petitioners further claimed that the clause gave the authorities arbitrary control over how to interpret it.
The respondents raised objections regarding the writ petition's eligibility to be maintained:
1) The court may only intervene in cases of violations of Part III of the Constitution, and it is the legislature's responsibility to address the needs of the people. The respondent claimed that there is a presumption in favour of the law's validity.
2) It was argued that the likelihood of section abuse could not be a basis for invalidating the section.
3) Since the monument is not arbitrary, its ambiguity cannot be used to proclaim it unconditionally.
Every term employed has a hazy connotation, the court ruled. What might offend one person might not offend another. The interpretation was deemed to be subjective as a result. Because 66A violates the right to freedom of speech and expression, the court ruled that the justifications do not cover it for reasonable limitations provided by Article 19. (2). The court ruled that it is constitutionally valid to prohibit access to material for the general public under Section 69A of the IT Act.
Impact of the Shreya Singhal Case
The Court determined that the Intermediary Rules and Section 79(3)(b) clauses must be read down. They have focused their interpretation. Thus, the Court has made it clear that in order for the Intermediary to be required to remove any content, it must first get a court order or notification from a government body.
Therefore, even if a complaint from a third party justifies takedown on its face, intermediaries would not be required to take any takedown/removal action upon receiving it (no matter how serious and severe). This then means that anyone who is offended by something posted on Facebook or Google Blogger must seek remedies through the government or the courts because they can no longer approach the Intermediary to erase the content.
However, it is unclear whether such a reading down affects personal safety because illegal material (potentially resulting in harm or loss) would be accessible to the public until a court order or administrative order is obtained, which could take a long time. Therefore, innocent people who have genuinely been defamed online by any intermediary will need to go through a lengthy process before contacting the authorities.
The judgement also made it clear that the court's order and/or the appropriate government's or agency's notification must carefully adhere to the topics mentioned under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution. It is evident that Section 79 cannot apply to illegal conduct that go beyond what is specified in Article 19(2).
The court noted that because of the statements in 66A's total open-endedness and lack of definition, it is not protected by Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution. The court overturned Section 66A because it actually had no proximate relationship or link to upsetting the peace or inciting someone to commit a crime. The court took the stance that law cannot in any way restrict the basic right to freedom of speech and expression by using Article 19(2) of the Constitution as protection.
Additionally, the court invalidated the unclear and arbitrary provisions using the severability test. It is not necessary to declare all of the legislation invalid.