Back in 2012, Techdirt reported on a poor Twitter user who was arrested after tweeting to his 16 followers something vaguely unflattering about a politician. The law invoked in this case, Section 66A of India’s Information Technology (IT) Act, has been used on other occasions against many quite harmless online comments, particularly if they embarrassed the powerful. Now India’s Supreme Court has struck it down, as the Times of India reports:
The court said such a law hit at the root of liberty and freedom of expression, the two cardinal pillars of democracy. The court said the section has to be erased from the law books as it has gone much beyond the reasonable restrictions put by the Constitution on freedom of speech. The Supreme Court said section 66A was vaguely worded and allowed its misuse by police.
But the judges did not eliminate another controversial power granted by the IT Act:
The court, however, upheld the validity of section 69B and the 2011 guidelines for the implementation of the I-T Act that allowed the government to block websites if their content had the potential to create communal disturbance, social disorder or affect India’s relationship with other countries.
Those are pretty vague criteria, and it’s easy to see them being abused, just as Section 66A was. Nonetheless, this is an important ruling (pdf), not least for the Indian Supreme Court’s robust defense of free speech. Let’s hope future Indian laws attempting to control online activities take note of its wisdom.