Section 66A of the IT Act
● Recently, the Supreme Court said it was shocking to hear that people were still booked and tried under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act.
● The Supreme Court had struck down Section 66A as unconstitutional and a violation of free speech in 2015 in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India.
Although Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 was intended to regulate the use of cyberspace, it is a gross violation of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Comment.
About Section 66A:
● It criminalised speech on the internet that was ‘grossly offensive’ or ‘menacing’ or electronic speech sent for the purpose of “causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will.”
● A person charged with offences under 66A could be imprisoned for as much as three years and be slapped with a fine.
Issues with 66A:
● Based on Undefined Actions: terms like "annoying", "inconvenient" and "grossly offensive", used in the provision, are vague
● Subjective Nature
● No Procedural Safeguards
● Against the Fundamental Right of freedom of expression
Supreme court Judgement:
● The court said that Section 66A arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately invades the right of free speech and upsets the balance between such right and the reasonable restrictions that may be imposed on such right.
● In the judgment, the court said the liberty of thought and expression was a cardinal value of paramount significance under the Constitution. Three concepts fundamental in understanding the reach of this right were discussion, advocacy and incitement. Discussion, or even advocacy, of a particular cause, no matter how unpopular it was, was at the heart of the right to free speech and it was only when such discussion or advocacy reached the level of incitement that it could be curbed on the ground of causing public disorder.
● The court said that several terms used in the law to define the contours of offences are “open-ended, undefined and vague”. “Every expression used is nebulous in meaning. What may be offensive to one may not be offensive to another. What may cause annoyance or inconvenience to one may not cause annoyance or inconvenience to another.”
● Dissemination of updated laws and recent judgments to all levels of police forces is required.
● The release of people booked under section 66A of IT Act should be expedited.