This week, the Indian government spelled out its reasons for placing higher restrictions on the Internet as compared to television or print medium, and pushed for the retention of the Section 66A of Information Technology Act, which it has itself termed "draconian".
"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," Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the Supreme Court on Wednesday, TOI reported.
"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," Mehta said.
The Supreme Court is hearing petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Section 66A on the ground that it violates the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 21. These petitions were filed after the arrest of two Maharashtra girls for making comments on Facebook about the shutdown of Mumbai for the funeral of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray in November 2012.
Section 66A prescribes three years in prison for "sending offensive messages" and "any information that is grossly offensive or has a menacing characters." This section has often been critiqued as vague and vulnerable to abuse. But the government argued that it is a necessary deterrent.
"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," Mehta said.
Many BJP leaders, including prime minister Narendra Modi and finance minister Arun Jaitley, had opposed Section 66A while they were in opposition. Many found that Modi, one of the biggest beneficiaries of free expression on the Internet, endorsing such a position, deeply ironic. The hashtag #No66A was very popular on Twitter today.
Censorship of the Internet is against my religion. Please don't hurt my religious sentiments.
— Kalki Koechlin (@kalkikanmani) February 26, 2015
— Shivam Vij (@DilliDurAst) February 26, 2015
— Pranesh Prakash (@pranesh_prakash) February 26, 2015
— Rajender Verma (@Rajender_Shimla) February 26, 2015