India's top court ditches 'Facebook' arrest rules

Tue Mar 24, 2015 7:31am EDT
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By Suchitra Mohanty

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's top court struck down a law on Tuesday that gave authorities powers to jail people for offensive online posts, a verdict hailed as a victory for free speech in the world's largest growth market for the Internet.

Section 66A of the country's Information and Technology (IT) Act was challenged in the Supreme Court by law students, bloggers, writers and rights groups following arrests across the country for statements posted on social media sites.

Justices Jasti Chelameshwar and Rohinton F. Nariman in their order said they found "the law hit at the root of liberty and freedom of expression".

"Our Constitution provides for liberty of thought, expression and belief. In a democracy, these values have to be provided within constitutional scheme. The law (Section 66A) is vague in its entirety," they said.

The petitioners argued the "draconian law" introduced in 2008 by the last government was misused by politicians to hound critics. The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi said it welcomed the ruling.

"The government absolutely respects the right to freedom of speech and expression on social media and has no intention of curbing it," telecom and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

Facebook (FB.O: Quote), Twitter (TWTR.N: Quote) and Google (GOOGL.O: Quote) did not immediately comment on the ruling but the Internet and Mobile Association of India, a trade body, said the ruling protected consumers and businesses.

"This judgment will herald a new phase in the growth and evolution of the Internet in India," the group said in a statement that also hailed a separate part of the judgment that makes it harder to force websites to take down content.   Continued...

A smartphone user shows the Facebook application on his phone in the central Bosnian town of Zenica, in this photo illustration, May 2, 2013. 
REUTERS/Dado Ruvic