Was repeal the only solution?

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Dear Editor,

As you reported in last month’s issue, in Shreya Singhal and Ors v Union of India the Supreme Court struck down section 66A of the Information & Technology Act, 2000, saying it was vague and prone to misuse. The court found section 66A open to arbitrary application as it lacked distinct principles to outline its ambit. But was repealing the section the only effective solution to protect freedom of speech?

Section 66A provided counteractive relief to genuine victims of cyber offences who will now have to undertake the arduous task of approaching the court first. Analogous provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) – sections 499, 124A, 295A, 506, etc. – will now apply to social media offences, but ironically the majority of these provisions have been criticized for being rampantly misused. Therefore, misuse of a provision should not be grounds for its repeal as by this logic every other penal provision will be liable for abrogation.

Section 66A was introduced to regulate social media in multi-communal India, where free speech is often misused to undermine the rights of others on sensitive grounds of communal, political and religious bias. Instead of removing section 66A, the judiciary should have endeavoured to give it a definite scope, by prescribing guidelines to determine what constitutes an offence under it.

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