PUCL v. Union of India [W.P.(Crl) No. 199 of 2013]

This writ petition is filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India in public interest as there are instances of complaints under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (hereinafter referred to as the Act) as well as misuse of the Rules framed under the Act all over the country despite the Supreme Court issuing notice in Shreya Singhal v. UoI and connected petitions.

Due to the vague and undefined purported offences contained within Section 66A, the power to punish speakers and writers through arrest and threat of criminal trial is at the first instance granted to complainants with offended sentiments and police officials. Such criminalization of speech over the Internet and mobile phone communication is contrary to Articles 14, 19 and 21, because the said section penalizes and restricts on-line speech to a much greater degree than off-line speech, restricts it in an unreasonable manner contrary to Article 19(1)(2) of the Constitution of India and that a significant proportion of the offences in Section 66A do not even fall within the permissible categories of restriction in Article 19(2).

Similarly, the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 which provide for vague and undefined categories that require legal determinations and effective censorship by private on-line service providers, are contrary to Articles 14, 19 and 21, and are not reasonable restrictions falling within the permissible categories of restriction in Article 19(1)(2).

The Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009 provide for blocking of web pages without proper publication or notice to public containing the reasons for blocking. Further, the process of blocking is entirely secret and ex facie fail to meet constitutional safeguards of natural justice under Article 19 and 21. The unreasonably restrictive procedure for banning websites in addition does not meet the procedural natural justice standards for book banning, e-books may thus be banned easily and secretively, immune to legal challenge as compared with their paper counterparts. As such the rules concerning the blocking of websites in their preset form are violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

For these reasons, the petitioner prays:

  • That directions be issued for the suspension of Section 66A of the Act and conclusion of all proceedings thereunder. In the alternative,

  • That directions be issued for the formation of a Committee of experts in law and IT to review criminal complaints and ongoing cases registered under Section 66A of the Act and that no FIR be registered, action taken by police authorities, cases be continued pursuant to Section 66A until approval by said committee

  • That the respondent be directed that blocking by the designated authority under the Act shall follow:

  • Record of reasons in writing for finding that a specific offence appears to have been committed or blocking order issued

  • Publication of the copy of the blocking order in the official gazette as well on the blocked website and a separate public page on the website of DEITY

  • That pending disposal of the present petition, the respondent notify intermediaries that the content taken down under the Intermediaries Guidelines Rules be required to pursue the following procedure as specified below:

  • When the intermediary is brought to actual notice in writing of uploaded content in violation of law

  • Initiate steps to inform the user who has uploaded the content

  • To initiate action on complaints within 36 hours

  • To redress such complaints promptly but in any case within one month from the date of receipt of complaint

  • Allow take down of content if no reply is received from the user

  • Direct take down of the intermediary being notified of the registration of an FIR or by order of a competent court

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