Section 66A of IT Act scrapped: Know about the whole issue

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday quashed Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 holding that it was violative of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech and expression.

"Section 66A of the IT Act is struck down in its entirety...," said the apex court bench of Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman.

Representational image

What does the court say?

  • The Supreme Court terms the act as unconstitutional and untenable.
  • The court said the law affects Indian citizens' right to free speech.
  • "Our Constitution provides for liberty of thought, expression and belief. In a democracy, these values have to be provided within constitutional scheme," said the bench
  • The court said terms like "annoying", "inconvenient" and "grossly offensive", used in the provision are vague.
  • In May, 2013, the apex court had issued an advisory that a person, accused of posting objectionable comments on social networking sites, cannot be arrested without police getting permission from senior officers like IG or DCP.

What is Section 66A?

  • Section 66 A of the Information Technology Act prohibits posting of offensive content.
  • The section gave police the powers to arrest anyone for sending offensive messages from mobiles and computers with up to 3 years in jail.
  • The Act has been in the news in recent times because of its alleged misuse.
  • "Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,-

(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or

(b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance,
inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device,

(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine."

Petitions against the Act

  • The first PIL on the issue was filed in 2012 by a law student Shreya Singhal, who sought amendment in Section 66A of the Act.
  • Then two girls - Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan - were arrested in Palghar in Thane district as one of them posted a comment against the shutdown in Mumbai following Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray's death and the other 'liked' it.

What is Government's stand?

  • The central government defended section 66A, saying that the provisions in no way intended to curb the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under article 19 of the Constitution.
  • The govt also said the enormous cyber world could not be left unregulated.

Cases where Act was misused

  • Recently, a class 11 student was arrested for making a Facebook post against UP minister Azam Khan.
  • A tourism officer in Varanasi was arrested for uploading "objectionable" pictures of SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son Akhilesh Yadav on Facebook.
  • In 2012, Ambikesh Mahapatra, a Jadavpur University professor, was arrested for forwarding a cartoon on TMC chief Mamata Banjerjee on Facebook in Kolkata.
  • The same year Air India employee Mayank Sharma and KV Rao from Mumbai were arrested for allegedly posting offensive comments against politicians on their Facebook group.
  • A man was arrested in Puducherry for tweeting that Karti Chidambaram, son of then union minister P Chidambaram was 'corrupt'.
  • In Goa last year, police booked a young shipping professional for a Facebook post which said that the Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi would start a holocaust in India.
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