Section 66A of IT Act
The Supreme Court on February 26 reserved its verdict on a batch of petitions challenging constitutional validity of certain sections of the cyber law...
The Supreme Court on February 26 reserved its verdict on a batch of petitions challenging constitutional validity of certain sections of the cyber law including a provision under which a person can be arrested for allegedly posting "offensive" contents on websites. It reserved judgement after the government concluded its arguments contending that section 66A of the cannot be "quashed" merely because of the possibility of its "abuse".
Section 66A of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008 prohibits the sending of offensive messages though a communication device (i.e. through an online medium). The types of information this covers are offensive messages of a menacing character, or a message that the sender knows to be false but is sent for the purpose of ‘causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will.’ If you’re booked under Section 66A, you could face up to 3 years of imprisonment along with a fine.
As free-speech activists and Internet rights activists have pointed out, Section 66A is often misused. A number of petitions against it were made in the backdrop of the arrest of two Maharashtra girls, Shaheen Dada and Renu Shrinivas, who were arrested in Mumbai for posting (and liking) a comment on Facebook questioning the shutdown of the city to mark Bal Thackeray’s death.
How does one gauge if some online communication, especially a tweet or a Facebook post, is "of a menacing character"? How does one determine, even with an iota of objectivity, if such communication can be "grossly offensive", or causes "annoyance and inconvenience" to another person? And, to top it all, what does it say about the reasonability, let alone legal validity, of a statutory provision which imposes criminal liability on anyone caught in its tangle? If only the legality was an issue. For, it could still be fought out in the courts. But when this provision becomes the basis for an alarming number of instances of vigilantism, spiralling into riots, then the repugnancy hits one smack in the face. Thus asks Saurav Datta at www.ifex.org.