Interview: Victory for free-speech campaigners, says section 66A petitioner

The SC ruled that the law violates people’s fundamental right to speech and expression.

Written by Vishnu Varma | New Delhi | Updated: March 24, 2015 1:00:27 pm
supreme court, sanskrit, HL Dattu The Supreme Court of India

In a widely-appreciated judgment, the Supreme Court scrapped the contentious section 66A of the Information Technology Act (IT) that empowers the police to make arrests over contentious social media posts. It ruled that the law violates people’s fundamental right to speech and expression.

Here is an interview with Faisal Farooqui, CEO of Mouthshut which had filed a writ petition in the top court in connection with Section 66A of the IT Act.

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Q. What has the Supreme Court actually said and what does this verdict mean for internet users?

A. Without going into the micro details of the judgment because I still have to read it, but it has been essentially said that any content take-down has to go through a court order or a judicial body. Section 66 is essentially out. Therefore, nobody can be arrested for any online post. Nobody can just get content removed without a court or judicial order.

Q. As one of the campaigners, how do you see the verdict?

A. It is definitely a victory for free-speech campaigners. We were also protesting and it is a victory for the entire country. This verdict will lead to a transformation of the Indian economy into that of a digital economy. Now there is a lot of clarity. Now people have the freedom to post online. Internet is not just about things like e-commerce, it is also about expression.

Q. Mouthshut has also filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court challenging the draconian order. Could you explain the background of the case?

A. Mouthshut is a user-generated platform where they can post reviews of products and services. But this rule hit us. We started getting legal notices — more than 800. In Oct, 2012, we started working and finally in April 2013, we filed the writ petition and challenged the content removal aspect. We assembled a good team of lawyers and we took a lot of advice from the legal front. We were very hopeful of a favourable judgement and the judges understood our concerns. It’s a very technical case but both judges were very competent and they showed the level of depth to understand the issue. As a computer engineer, I was very proud.

Q. Do you think the judgment could have come much earlier?

A. I don’t think the judgment was too late. There was the general election last year.

Q. With Section 66A now invalid, how do we deal with hate speech?

A. Most good websites and most social media portals have terms and services and they abide by the rules. Nobody would like to host libelous content. But this law wanted us to decide on libel and defamation. Defamation is a very vague and subjective term. The law had to be challenged because it put the onus on us.

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