In a big relief to the millions of Facebook, Twitter and other social media users, who always faced threat of arrest and harassment for voicing their opinion and dissent, the Supreme Court has struck down Section 66A of the Information & Technology (IT) Act, which had the provision of immediate arrest of people. While the police can still take action against people who spread false propaganda and hatred, they cannot arrest those immediately under 66A for just writing or posting comments on social media.
The #Section66A of the IT Act, was abused and misused by many governments at the Centre and state to harass people, who dared to criticise them on social media or blogs. Several such instances came into light in the last three years, which forced the Supreme Court to consider this case with urgency.
A PIL on the issue was filed in 2012 by law student Shreya Singhal, who sought amendment in Section 66A of the Act. She took the decision after two girls – Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Shrinivasan — were arrested in Palghar in Thane district of Maharashtra for opposing the shutdown in Mumbai soon following Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray’s death.
Recently, A Tourism Officer in Varanasi was arrested for uploading “objectionable” pictures of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Akhilesh Yadav and Azam Khan on Facebook. In April 2012, Ambikesh Mahapatra, a Jadavpur University Professor, was arrested in Kolkata for circulating Mamata Banerjee’s cartoon. Only a few days ago, the Calcutta high court directed the West Bengal Government to pay him a compensation of Rs 50,000.
What are the Provisions of 66A of the IT
“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.”