Life after Section 66A of the Information Technology Act

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While it may have been a major relief that the Supreme Court of India struck down the draconian Section 66A of the Information Technology Act (IT Act), this, however, should not be seen as a licence to post anything and everything on the internet.

It is not a freedom to abuse, legal experts say while adding that the provisions under the Indian Penal Code can still be evoked to book persons who indulge in defaming people.

Internet and freedom

The Supreme Court in a landmark verdict yesterday struck down Section 66A of the IT Act terming it open-ended and unconstitutionally vague.

Section 66A of the IT act authorized the police to arrest people who posted offensive or menacing posts. The section was vague and had no checks and balances which gave the police the right to arrest persons which they construed as offensive. [Sec 66 A scrapped: SC gives freedom to Internet users; how celebrities, others reacted]

What happens to cases booked under Section 66A?

All cases under filed under Section 66A will now be withdrawn.

One cannot expect the police to go up to the court and file an application to withdraw cases filed under this draconian section.

Those who have been booked under this section can however approach the courts and seek withdrawal of the section quoting the latest judgment by the Supreme Court of India. [Section 66A of IT Act: Explained]

The government on the other hand will have to issue a notification directing that the section be repealed from the law books.

Section 66A in the law books would now read, hence repealed in the wake of the Supreme Court verdict.

Will cases under Section 66A completely be withdrawn?

This would entirely depend on the cases that have been booked.

Those persons booked only under Section 66A will get relief in the wake of the Supreme Court verdict.

However if the police have invoked the provisions under the Indian Penal Code, then those cases would continue before the court.

There are a good number of cases filed under Section 66A which also have provisions of the Indian Penal Code slapped.

In such cases those persons who have been booked will still have to fight it out in court.

What provisions will complainants now use?

With Section 66A being struck down, the complainants can now use the provisions under the Indian Penal Code.

Sections 499 and 500 will come into play while booking cases from now onwards.

Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code describes what defamation is and Section 500 prescribes the punishment.

If anyone finds that abusive posts are being posted on the internet then he or she always has the option to file a case under Section 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code.

The difference is that in cases booked under the Indian Penal Code, there cannot be an unwarranted arrest made.

The police will have to book the case, investigate and it would be the courts which will determine the period of sentence.

The case would be argued thoroughly and only after satisfying the court that the material posted was defamatory in nature will a judgment be passed.

In the case of Section 66A the problem was that if the police officer construed that the material was offensive or abusive he could go ahead and arrest the person.

The Section gave the police sweeping powers to carry out an arrest pending investigation.

Understanding Secitons 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code:

Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code states that whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter expected, to defame that person.

Section 500 states whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

What can the government do now?

The government of India which had assured the Supreme Court that there would be no misuse of the provision, however, lost the battle in the Supreme Court.

The court had clearly observed that it cannot be said that the next government would exercise caution while implementing the section and hence it is best that it is struck down.

The government can either amend the section and make it less draconian.

If the government is convinced that the section shall remain then it can always seek a review of the judgment before a larger bench of the Supreme Court of India.

It is unlikely that the government may seek a review. However it is contemplating amending the section to make it more acceptable and less draconian in nature.

In this era of the internet, the government feels that some safeguards are needed.

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