The recent SC ruling of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act 2000, as unconstitutional is certainly a landmark judgment in more ways than one. It eventually aligns with freedom of expression, enshrined under Article 19 of the constitution. It may be argued that its inclusion may have been well- intentioned, but there have been serious aberrations on implementation on-ground, which ultimately defeats the spirit of the provision. This judgment finally, will help remove these aberrations which caused more trouble than what was meant to solve. Any provision of law does bring in some positive intentions, coupled sometimes, with unwitting negative consequences.
Not just freedom of speech, but it also aligns with section 79 of the said act which deals with limited liability of intermediaries in case of objectionable posts in social media. Section 79 sub section 3B states, if the intermediary is informed about such content and he fails to bring it down expeditiously, then legal action may be imposed by the executive authority. Erstwhile, the definition of “objectionable content” would then have fallen under the purview of executive jurisdiction. Given the country’s diversity and sensitivity which are sometimes region-specific, such definition would have been left open to interpretation, often tainted by bias. Which, it often did as was seen in the past. But now, such legal binding can only be as per court jurisdiction and can be expected to remove the anomaly. It would be reasonable to expect, that court investigation would suffice in deciding on the exact nature of the content without prejudice.
It is not altogether a new problem and it existed even before the Internet age. What digital media has effectively done is enabled individuals to reach out to a large section of society just by click of a button. In our case, it is effectively the country’s entire diverse population of 1.2 billion. There are high possibilities that individual miscreants may exploit the loopholes and whip up a frenzy by posting objectionable content. Consequences may be catastrophic and lead to threat of human life and property. Under such circumstances it would be the government’s responsibility to ensue law and order. The potential misuse of Internet and its ramifications, have been the game-changer when compared to the time before internet. As social media evolves, it would then be binding on all users to have a self-regulatory mechanism in place. As individuals, and to extend that even at a societal level.
Internet as a medium was meant to be free and transcend territorial borders. It was not meant to be regulated or monitored. In that sense, there is a certain degree of anonymity and risk attached as well. The laws spoken about, are all binding only within the sovereign boundaries of the state. Read in conjunction with the IPC it remains to be seen, if in future, there calls for a need to have a remedial provision, in case, self-regulation fails to have the desired impact. This is also an opportunity for the international community to collaborate and cooperate and address this issue.