Supreme Court on Wednesday said that it will examine the term “grossly offensive” used in a provision of the Information Technology Act which empowers police to arrest web users for posting objectionable content. “What is grossly offensive to you, may not be grossly offensive to me and it is a vague term. We are only examining the term grossly offensive. Central Governments come and go but Section 66A (of the Information Technology Act) remains forever,” a bench of Justices J Chelameswar and Rohinton F Nariman said.The court’s observation came when Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said that nothing is “grossly offensive” unless it leads to violence. Resuming his arguments, the ASG said, “We are reconsidering the whole issue with respect to freedom of speech and expression. Nothing is grossly offensive unless it invites violence.”
“Nowadays with the proactive role of media and administrative authorities, whenever there is an aberration and which comes to the attention of the country, action is taken accordingly. This is not a ground for excuse but possible abuse is likely to be minimum in such a scenario.
“It is the case of the Central Government that Section 66A which uses expressions like causing ‘annoyance’, ‘inconvenience’, ‘obstruction’ etc essentially and mainly to deal with cyber crimes and has no relation with the freedom of speech and expression of any citizen,” Mehta said.
The ASG said the central government does not defend that part of the statute which offends the freedom of speech and expression. The apex court is hearing a batch of petitions challenging constitutional validity of several provisions of the Act. The petitions primarily came in the backdrop of the arrest of two Maharashtra girls for making comments on the shutdown of Mumbai for the funeral of Shiv Sena Chief Bal Thackeray.