SC notice to states on cases being filed under scrapped law
New Delhi, Aug 02: The Supreme Court has issued a notice to all states and UTs on registration of cases under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act which was banned six years ago.
"The judiciary (aspect) we will look into separately... (and) as this matter pertains to not only courts but also police, (let) notice be issued to all states and Union Territories," a bench of Justices RF Nariman and BR Gavai said.
"This is to be done in a period of four weeks from today. List matter after four weeks," the court said.
On February 15, 2019, the top court had directed all state governments to sensitise their police personnel about its March 24, 2015 verdict which had scrapped Section 66A of Information Technology Act, so that people are not unnecessarily arrested under the struck down provision.
It also asked all the high courts to send the copy of the verdict to all the trial court to avoid people being prosecuted under the scrapped provision which provided for jail term to people who posted offensive content online.
Terming liberty of thought and expression "cardinal", the top court had on March 24, 2015, scrapped the provision saying that "the public''s right to know is directly affected by Section 66A of the Information Technology Act".
The first PIL on the issue was filed in 2012 by law student Shreya Singhal who sought an amendment in Section 66A of the Act after two girls - Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Shrinivasan - were arrested in Palghar in Maharashtra''s Thane district.
While one had posted a comment against the shutdown in Mumbai following Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray''s death, the other had ''liked'' it. PUCL was also one of the petitioners in the earlier case and has challenged the constitutional validity of section 66A of IT Act.
What is Section 66 A?
Section 66A of the IT Act punished online communication considered as "grossly offensive, menacing" that caused "annoyance, inconvenience, injured, intimidated or caused enmity and hatred".
Besides, Section 66A made it punishable to send an 'electronic mail message' for the purpose of causing annoyance, or inconvenience, or to deceive or to mislead the recipient about the origin of the message.
The Supreme Court judgement to struck down Section 66A of the IT Act was a significant decision in protecting online free speech against arbitrary restrictions. However, six years down the line since the judgment, the act is still being used to punish people.
11 states where the defunct law is still being implemented
Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Delhi, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal.
What should be done
- The government should issue necessary advisories with immediate effect to all States/ UTs and through them to all police stations.
- Wide publicity should be given on both Print and Electronic media.
- Strict action must be taken against the erring police personnel.
- The government must make sure that the public at large does not live in fear.