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Shreya Singhal vs Union of India (2015) – Upholding Freedom of Speech in Cyber Laws

Shreya Singhal vs Union of India (2015) – Upholding Freedom of Speech in Cyber Laws

Case Name: Shreya Singhal vs Union of India

Citation: AIR 2015 SC 1523

The historic decision in this case had a significant impact on our nation’s cyber laws. It had an impact on cyber laws and clarified how Article 19 of the Constitution, which addresses freedom of speech and expression, should be interpreted.


Two women were detained by the police for reportedly posting inappropriate and disrespectful comments on Facebook over the morality of closing Mumbai after the passing of a political leader. The information was sent through a computer resource or communication device with the intent to cause annoyance, inconvenience, danger, insult, injury, hatred, or ill will. The information was false and was sent with knowledge of its falsity, according to Section 66A of the Information Technology Act of 2000 (ITA), under which the police made the arrests.

Although the women were later released by the police, who dropped their charges, the incident received a lot of media attention and backlash. The women then submitted a petition, arguing that Section 66A is unconstitutional since it interferes with their freedom of expression.

In Singhal v. Union of India, (2013) 12 S.C.C. 73, the Supreme Court of India first ordered an interim measure that forbade any arrest made in accordance with Section 66A unless it was authorised by top police authorities.  The Court discussed the validity of the provision in the current case. 

Issues involved:

  • Are the IT Act’s Sections 66-A, 69-A, and 79 constitutional?
  • Is the IT Act’s Section 66A a violation of the freedom of speech and expression?


Petitioner’s Argument-

Article 66A of the IT Act 2000 infringes on the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the IndianConstitutionn.

The petitioners claimed that causing an uproar, nuisance, and other comparable behaviours are not covered by the reasonable constraints established in Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

By its very nature, Section 66A is unclear, and thus introduces a flaw because it does not sufficiently define the terminology employed there and gives an opportunity for interpretation on the side of law enforcement organisations. As a result, neither the section nor the limitation are present. The section violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution because there is no “Intelligible Differentia” as to why Provision- 66 A is focused solely on communication modalities. The end effect is self-discrimination, which is against Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. Additionally, the petitioners argued that the clause provided the government with arbitrary power to interpret it.

Respondent’s Argument:

Concerning the writ petition’s eligibility to be maintained, the respondents voiced their concerns:

  1. The legislative is in charge of addressing the needs of the populace, and the court may only become involved in situations where Part III of the Constitution has been broken. According to the reply, there is a presumption in support of the law’s legality.
  2. It was contended that the possibility of section abuse could not serve as justification for the section’s invalidation.
  3. The ambiguity of the monument cannot be utilised to declare it to be objectively true because it is not arbitrary.

Reasoning and Observation:

The Intermediary Rules and Section 79(3)(b) clauses must be read down, the court ruled. Their interpretation is focused. As a result, the Court has made it clear that the Intermediary must first obtain a court order or notification from a government agency before it is obligated to remove any content. Therefore, intermediaries would not be compelled to take any takedown/removal action after receiving a complaint from a third party, even if the complaint on its face supports takedown. (no matter how serious and severe). This implies that since there is no longer a way to ask the Intermediary to remove the content, anyone who is upset by something posted on Facebook or Google Blogger must seek redress through the government or the courts. Unlawful material (which could potentially cause harm or loss) would be available to the public until a court order or administrative order is obtained, which could take a while. As a result, It is unclear whether such a reading down affects personal safety. Therefore, before alerting the authorities, innocent people who have been wrongfully defamed online by any middleman must go through a drawn-out process. The verdict also made it apparent that the themes listed under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution must be closely followed by the court’s order and/or the appropriate government or agency’s notification. It is obvious that Section 79 cannot apply to unlawful acts that exceed those prohibited by Article 19. (2).

The court stated that the assertions in 66A are not covered by Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution since they are completely open-ended and lack definition. Because Section 66A had no proximate connection to disturbing the peace or inciting someone to commit a crime, the court overturned it. The court used Article 19(2) of the Constitution as support for its opinion that laws cannot in any way limit the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. The court also applied the severability test to nullify the ambiguous and unreasonable provisions. Not every piece of law needs to be ruled invalid.


The court determined that every term used has a vague connotation. What may irritate one individual may not irritate another. As a result, it was decided that the interpretation was arbitrary. The court determined that the arguments offered by 66A for the reasonable limitations stipulated by Article 19 do not apply because they infringe on the right to freedom of speech and expression. (2). The court determined that Section 69A of the IT Act’s prohibition on public access to certain materials is constitutionally lawful.

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