India’s Supreme Court today, March 24, vetoed a controversial 2009 amendment to India’s Information Technology Act. The court found it unconstitutional as a restriction on freedom of speech online.
The amendment made posting information on social media of “grossly offensive or menacing character” punishable by up to three years in jail.
The law was challenged by a law student, Shreya Singhal, shortly after the arrest of two girls in Mumbai for a Facebook post criticising the shutdown of the city after a political leader’s death. One of the two girls had merely “liked” the post according to the BBC.
While the court struck down the controversial amendment, it upheld another amendment which allows the government to block online content that “threatens the security of the state.” Clearly, rights campaigners in India still have their work cut out for them.
The Court ruling in India does however mark some rare positive news for online rights in the region. India was deemed “partly free” in terms of online expression in NGO Freedom House’ 2014 report. The same report characterised its neighbours: China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Pakistan as “not free.”
The Court’s decision is a win for Internet users. It may also strengthen the India’s democracy — the largest in the world with 1,267 million inhabitants.
Further protections for Internet intermediaries would give legal certainty for India’s booming tech sector. It would help spur foreign investment, innovation, and job creation in the country, which may outpace China as the world’s fastest growing economy already this year, according to IMF Chief, Christine Lagarde.