New Delhi : Justifying retention of penal provision of Section 66A of Information Technology Act for posting offensive material on social networking sites, the Centre on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that reach and impact of internet was wider and the level of restriction on this medium should be higher in comparison to print and television.
Unlike print and electronic media, the web did not exist and operate in an institutional form and there was a need for some mechanism to put checks and balances on this medium although it was impossible to regulate it, additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta argued before the apex court.
“There are institutions which are working in other media whether it is paper, television or cinema. There is an institutional approach and there are checks like pre-censorship for TV and films. But in internet there is individual approach and there is no checks and balances or license,” Mehta told the bench of Justices J Chelameswar and Rohinton Fali Nariman.
He said that restriction on freedom of speech and expression changed with the change in medium and higher level of restriction should be applied to the web.
“Considering the reach and impact of medium, leeway be given to legislature to frame rules. On internet every individual is a director, producer and broadcaster and a person can send offensive material to millions of people at a same time in nanosecond just with a click of button,” he said.
“In case of internet, it is very easy to invade someone’s privacy. Morphing of images can be done and put on internet or some rumour can be spread through internet which can create social disorder in society. It is not possible to outrage someone’s modesty through print and television but it can be easily done through internet,” the ASG said.
The bench, however, said that reasonable restriction allowed under Article 19(2) of Constitution on freedom of speech and expression did not recognize any form of medium.
Mehta said that the apex court in its various judgements had recognized different threshold of restrictions for different mediums depending upon their reach and impact.
Emphasizing the need to continue with Section 66A, making posting of offensive messages on social networking site an offence punishable up to three-year jail term, Mehta said that it cannot be quashed or thrown out just because the provision is vague on defining the word “grossly offensive”.
The court is hearing a bunch of petitions challenging constitutional validity of Section 66A on the ground that it violates fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.
The court had earlier said that the term offensive was “vague” and highly “subjective” term and Section 66A is prone to misuse.
The government had said that posting pictures and comments on social networking sites which hurt religious sentiments cannot be tolerated and people must be prosecuted under Section 66A. It had said that hurting religious sentiments comes under the category of “grossly offensive” under the provision and such acts must be penalized.