The Free Internet Project

India Supreme Court rules censorship law Section 66A unconstitutional violation of free speech

On March 24, 2015, the Indian Supreme Court rendered an important free speech decision (running over 100 pages in length) that invalidated an amendment to the Information Technology Act known as Section 66A.  Under Section 66A, it was criminal to post online any content that is “grossly offensive or menacing character.”  According to The Guardian, critics of the law said that the police abused the law and arrested people indiscriminately as a way to stifle dissent and free speech. 

In the decision, the Supreme Court declared: "It is clear that Section 66A arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately invades the right of free speech and upsets the balance between such right and the reasonable restrictions that may be imposed on such right."  The Court was especially worried about the chilling effect of the law: "Information that may be grossly offensive or which causes annoyance or inconvenience are undefined terms which take into the net a very large amount of protected and innocent speech. A person may discuss or even advocate by means of writing disseminated over the internet information that may be a view or point of view pertaining to governmental, literary, scientific or other matters which may be unpalatable to certain sections of society." "In point of fact, Section 66A is cast so widely that virtually any opinion on any subject would be covered by it, as any serious opinion dissenting with the mores of the day would be caught within its net. Such is the reach of the Section and if it is to withstand the test of constitutionality, the chilling effect on free speech would be total."