Social media has been seen as a tool in expressing one’s opinion and views pertaining to various issues of social importance. However, when such expression includes taking videos of a person doing a certain act being posted online, the question that pops up is whether there has been any form of violation of the privacy of such person who is posted on social media platforms? The Kerala High Court answered this in lieu of a petition filed by students who were made the accused in a criminal complaint filed by their teacher for allegedly violating her privacy by recording the teacher whilst she was removing posters that were pasted by some students in lieu of protests against the alleged harassment of the college management that resulted in the death of a student and subsequently posting them online.
The Kerala High Court, presided over by the Hon’ble Justice Sunil Thomas, heard the Criminal Petition filed by the student who were the accused in a complaint filed by their teacher under the provisions of Section 294(b) of the IPC and Section 119(b) of the Kerala Police Act. The counsel for the petitioners argued that the definition of ‘reasonable privacy of a woman’ under Section 119(b) of the Kerala Police Act is not properly defined and invoking such a provision is incorrect as it is absolutely vague and confers on the Police very wide powers to initiate criminal proceeding against the persons on the basis of a statutory provision which is vague. The Hon’ble Court further relied on the judgment of the Apex Court in Shreya Singhal V. Union of India (AIR 2015
SC 1523) which held that vague laws offend several important values. The court further relied on the Apex Court judgment in Kartar Singh V. State of Punjab [(1194) 3 SCC 569] which held that vague laws may trap the innocent by not providing fair warning. The Court, placing reference to the judgment of the Apex Court observed as follows:
“7………. Consequently, in the absence of a clear definition as to what is meant by a transgression into the privacy of a person, the conduct of the petitioner cannot ex post facto be brought within the campus of offending a statutory provision. Even otherwise as mentioned above, the 2nd respondent has no case that the petitioners are the persons who had made the publication in the social media.”
With reference to the applicability of Section 294(b) of the IPC to the said complaint, the Court observed that it was not relevant as it did not fulfil the conditions satisfying the wordings of the said provisions and stated as follows:
“9. The offence under Section 294(b) cannot be imported in the present conduct at all. In Latheef V. State of Kerala (2014 (2) KLT 987) this Court held that to attract offence under Section 294(b), the act alleged must have a sexual content or must have a lascivious element involved. Even by a remote stretch of imagination it cannot be extended to this case.”
Thereafter, the Court allowed the petition of the Petitioners and ordered the lower court proceedings to be quashed.
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