The Centre has maintained in the Supreme Court that Section 66A of the Information Technology Act is constitutionally valid.
In its response to the notice issued on Shreya Singhal’s petition, the government said: “The alleged high-handedness of certain authorities in arresting some accused does not mean that Section 66A is bad in law. The possibility of abuse does not render it unconstitutional. Further, Section 66A is very similar to enactments prevailing in other jurisdictions.”
It “is regulatory in nature and it is wrong to say it is violative of Articles 14 and 21.”
The intent was to curb misuse of the communication service by sending offensive messages or messages having a menacing character using short message service (SMS), multimedia message service (MMS), email, etc, which might have the potential to disturb the peace and communal harmony.
The contention that Section 66A “curbs freedom of expression and speech and thus violative of Article 19 (1)” was wrong. For, freedom of expression was subject to reasonable restrictions relating to defamation, contempt of court, decency or morality, security of state, friendly relations with foreign states, incitement to an offence, the public order and maintenance of the sovereignty and integrity of India.
The Centre said the Department of Electronics and Information Technology had, in its January 9 advisory, asked the States and Union Territories not to arrest any person under this provision until prior approval was obtained from an officer not below the rank of Inspector-General of Police in metropolitan cities or an officer not below the rank of Deputy Commissioner or Superintendent of Police at the district level.
Ms. Singhal had brought to the court’s notice the recent arrest of Shaheen Dadha (21) for questioning, on Facebook, the shutdown in Mumbai following the demise of a political figure. Her friend, Renu Srinivasan, who ‘liked’ and shared the message, was also arrested.
In its response, the Maharashtra government conceded that the arrests were made by the SP, Thane (Rural), contrary to the instructions given by the Special IGP, Konkan Range. A probe was ordered and the investigating officer concluded that no offence was made out against both girls and a report was filed before the magistrate concerned to this effect.
The State government would take steps to uphold the freedom of speech and expression. It had taken a very serious view of the arrests, which were “totally unwarranted.” It said “the Maharashtra government is cognisant of the chilling effect that such incidents could create and has taken firm action in the matter.”
In its response, the Puducherry government said that based on a complaint given by Karti P. Chidambaram that one Ravi Srinivasan had been engaging in a smear campaign against him on a social media website and was spreading falsehood and offensive messages against him and his father, Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, an enquiry was conducted.
After getting legal opinion, a criminal case was registered and Mr. Srinivasan arrested. Hence no law was violated in this case, nor was there any violation of freedom of speech.