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Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000

  • 13 Oct 2022
  • 4 min read

For Prelims: Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000, Article 19(1)(a)

For Mains: Freedom of Speech and Expression, Issues Arising Out of Design & Implementation of Policies, Government Policies & Interventions

Why in News?

Recently, the Supreme Court ordered States and their police forces to stop prosecuting free speech on social media under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000.

  • However, the court clarified that this direction would apply only to a charge under Section 66A and not extend to other offences in a case.

What is Section 66A of the IT Act?

  • About:
    • Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, of 2000 made it a punishable offence for any person to send offensive information using a computer or any other electronic device.
    • The provision also made it punishable for a person to send information that they believed to be false.
      • Section 66A had prescribed three years' imprisonment if a social media message caused "annoyance" or was found "grossly offensive".
    • Even sending emails for causing annoyance, inconvenience, or to deceive or mislead the recipient about the origin of the message was punishable under this section.
    • The court struck down the provision as unconstitutional and a violation of free speech in 2015 in the Shreya Singhal Case.
      • The section relating to restrictions on online speech was declared unconstitutional on grounds of violating the freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
      • It held that online intermediaries would only be obligated to take down content on receiving an order from a court or government authority.
  • Issues with Section 66A:
    • Based on Undefined Actions:
      • The weakness of Section 66A lay in the fact that it had created an offence on the basis of undefined actions: such as causing “inconvenience, danger, obstruction and insult”, which do not fall among the exceptions granted under Article 19 of the Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of speech.
    • No Procedural Safeguards:
      • Section 66A did not have procedural safeguards like other sections of the law with similar aims, such as the need to obtain the concurrence of the Centre before action can be taken.
        • Local authorities could proceed autonomously, literally on the whim of their political masters.
    • Against the Fundamental Rights:
      • Section 66A was contrary to both Articles 19 (free speech) and 21 (right to life) of the Constitution.
        • Right to know is the species of the right to speech and expression provided by the Article 19(1) (a) of the constitution of India.

Way Forward

  • There is a pressing need to move from a system where communication about judicial decisions is at the mercy of initiatives by scrupulous officers, to a method not contingent on human error to the greatest possible extent. The urgency cannot be overstated.
    • Enforcing unconstitutional laws is sheer wastage of public money.
  • But more importantly, until this basic flaw is addressed, certain persons will remain exposed to denial of their right to life and personal liberty in the worst possible way imaginable.
    • They will suffer the indignity of lawless arrest and detention, for no reason other than their poverty and ignorance, and inability to demand their rights.

Source: TH

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