Even after the sudden death of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, the government can still blackout websites as the Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the constitutional validity of Section 69A which allows blocking of online information.
A bench of justice Chelameswar and justice Rohinton F Nariman said Section 69A had several safeguards minimising any possibility of misuse.
Unlike Section 66A, which was abused by the police to arrest alleged offenders at will, Section 69A authorises only the Centre to block information under the exceptions (reasonable restrictions) mentioned in Article 19(2) of the Constitution. The government is bound to give reasons for its decision in writing.
The rules under the IT Act mandated a hearing before a committee set up to examine if it was necessary to block such information and any blocking would be possible only when the committee approved it after hearing the social media platform concerned as also the person posting the information, the SC noted.
The intermediary (social media platform such as Facebook, Twitter), which has been facing criminal cases in India for user-generated objectionable content, has to be provided with a certified copy of the order and then only can it be acted against for non-compliance, the bench said.
The SC, however, gave a breather to intermediaries by watering down Section 79 of the Act which deals with exemption from liability of such platforms in certain cases.
The court said an intermediary can be expected to act only after receiving actual knowledge from a court order or from the appropriate government or its agency that unlawful acts are going to be committed.
After the verdict, an intermediary will no longer be directly liable for user-generated objectionable content until and unless it is brought to its notice by a court order or the appropriate authority/agency of the government.
Interactive | Major arrests/cases due to Section 66A
(Interactive graphic by Shadab Nazmi)