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“If a law requires a person to be careful, it is not violative of free speech”; Notes from the Supreme Court

A two judge bench of the Supreme Court, comprising of Justice Chelameswar and Bobde, hearing multiple cases challenging sections linked to the IT Act, observed yesterday that Section 66A of the Information Technology Act (download) - provisions related to which had been called vague, unconstitutional, and beyond the ambit of Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India which provides reasonable restrictions on free speech only chills you from saying something offensive (on the Internet). The court hasn't finished hearing the arguments, and the comments made don't necessarily have any bearing on the final judgment. Following arguments made Sajan Poovayya, representing Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, which suggested that the provisions are such that even following community standards will have a chilling effect on free speech, since every community has different standards and (almost) all communities are present on the Internet, the vagueness of the provisions will have a chilling effect on Free Speech (and lead to self censorship), Justice Bobde observed that "this law chills you from saying something offensive. You are not talking to your community, you are talking to the world community. Someone talking to the United Nations will have different approach to (saying something in) a drawing room. This is a vexed issue. In all the arguments, the injunction to be careful is being seen as an injunction to be quiet. Free speech is not the right to say what you want. If a law requires a person to be careful, it is not violative of free…

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Written By

Founder @ MediaNama. TED Fellow. Asia21 Fellow @ Asia Society. Co-founder SaveTheInternet.in and Internet Freedom Foundation. Advisory board @ CyberBRICS

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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