March 29, 2015

Blog and Tweet knives in politics: which is sharper?

In the past one year or so, blogs were seldom used to settle scores. At least not in Indian national scene. Senior politicians would reflect on others' actions and try to justify their own stand on political or social matters. It was time when BJP stalwarts, Advani, Jaitley and Modi wrote good blog posts on myriad matters. Some posts were excellent by all standards. 

In those times, the job of shouting at each other by politicians themselves or their fans or trolls or back-end boys was done through Twitter.

Now we might see a new trend. Politicians, at least of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), are fighting on blogs [Yogendra Yadav, Mayank Gandhi, Rakesh Parikh...]. The pour out their sentiments and disparage those of opponents on their blogs. That has happened in the last one month or so. We think, it might have to wait to become a trend, as no other party is undergoing tumult at present; they all have either total authoritarianism or disarray.

Twitter, as a medium is much more instant. You feel bad and you blurt it out on Twitter. By the time you realise you should not have done that, it already has travelled far. The juicier and destructive the tweet, the more it has chances to go viral. This time, it was the turn of Minister and ex-Chief of Army, VK Singh to rant on Twitter and repent at leisure. Remember his 'disgust', offer to resign and all sorts of rationalisation why he was seen at Pakistan's embassy in Delhi with Kashmiri separatists.

Modi-DickCostoloBut hats off to PM Modi. He had a rather lengthy talk with Twitter chief, Dick Costolo, two days back in which he sought Twitter help in propagating his initiatives for cleanliness, saving and educating girls, etc.
The very next day, his tweets were available through SMS on giving a missed call to 01130063007. Just to update on Modi's Twitter stats, his personal account @NarendraModi has 11 million followers and his official account @PMOIndia has 5.42 million followers.

P.S.: AAP is also teaching Indian politicians the value of stings. For the last two years, its boss, Arvind Kejriwal, has been preaching all citizens to use sting as a weapon to expose misconduct of others; now stings are being used against its party colleagues. The one on Kejriwal himself beats them all: he is heard abusing senior party colleagues. Among social media platforms, that heralds the coming of YouTube for political fights. So, blogs lead to Twitter and then comes YouTube?

March 25, 2015

Supreme Court strikes down #66A of IT Act: a fact sheet

ITB was waiting with bated breath whether India's Supreme Court strikes down Section 66A of IT Act, 2000. Chances were that it would, and it really did. We are not only relieved, we are rejoicing along with millions of Indians, especially the people active on social media and those who think freedom of speech is essential in a democracy.

In the present post, we bring you some facts verbatim so that you don't have to depend on what newspapers or channels report according to the understanding of their reporters and debaters, and their editorial line.

What is the #66A court case, 'Shreya Singhal vs Union of India'? 

This is a writ petition filed under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution. Under this article, an aggrieved person can directly approach the supreme Court or High Courts against infringement of his/ her fundamental rights. The main petition is by Ms. Shreya Singhal and with this, a number of appeals made by others have been clubbed. Petitioners have challenged provisions of some laws that are supposed to go against citizens' freedom of speech and expression granted by Article 19 of the Constitution. 

Does the court verdict scrap IT Act? 

The Supreme Court has struck down Section 66A (while upholding some other sections) of the IT Act, and other acts in question. The judgement is a lengthy one, with 119 paras. The last, summing up, para is given here.

This Section 66A was struck down as it came in conflict with Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(2) of the Indian Constitution. 

What do these Articles say? 

Art. 19(1)(a) is one of the freedoms granted under the Constitution, i.e. freedom of speech and expression:

19. Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech etc
(1) All citizens shall have the right
(a) to freedom of speech and expression;

Art. 19(2) saves a law from Art. 19(1) when the law is enacted for integrity of India, decency, etc:

section-66A(2) Nothing in sub clause (a) of clause ( 1 ) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

Exactly what was there in Section #66A? 

This Section allowed the police to imprison any person who, in its opinion, sent offensive, menacing, annoying, insulting or similar information through a mobile or IT device. The text of this Section is given here.

This section was inserted into the IT Act in 2009. (It was not there in the original Act.)

Can I now post on the web whatever I want?

A person can still be tried under various provisions of Indian laws. However, the authorities cannot impose 'unreasonable' restrictions on freedom of speech and expression using legal provisions that took cover under Article 19(2).

What is government reaction to the judgement?

The government is yet to come out with a considered response. In a hurriedly called press conference, Minister for IT, Ravi Shankar Prasad, has said that the government supports the judgement; in fact, it had given an affidavit to the court calling for stringent guidelines to curb misuse of the Act.