The Parliament enacts the “The Information Technology Act” in 2000. It is the primary law in India for matters related to cyber-crime and e-commerce.
The amendment Act of 2008 amends The IT Act, 2000. This amendment introduced the controversial Section 66A into the Act.
- Section 66A gave authorities the power to arrest anyone accused of posting content on social media that could be deemed ‘offensive’.
- This amendment was passed in Parliament without any debate.
- This section provides punishment for sending any ‘information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character’.
- It also made it an offence to send any information that the sender knows to be false, but for the purpose of annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill-will, through a computer or electronic device.
- The penalty prescribed for the above was up to three years’ imprisonment with a fine.
Arguments against Section 66A
- Experts stated that the terms ‘offensive’, ‘menacing’, ‘annoyance’, etc. were vague and; ill-defined or not defined at all.
- There was a lot of scope for abuse of power using this provision to intimidate people working in the media.
- This also curbed the freedom of speech and expression enshrined as a fundamental right in the Constitution.
- Earlier the use of this section was to arrest persons for making any uncharitable remarks or; criticisms against politicians.
Shreya Singhal v Union of India (2015)
This landmark case plays a very important role in the Indian legal system. The case revolves around the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, which challenged the constitutional validity of section 66A and led to the struck down of section 66A of the Information Technology Act 2000 Section 66A is the punishment for sending offensive messages through communication services, etc.
Brief facts of the case:
In 2012 Mumbai police arrest two girls-Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan for expressing their displeasure at a bandh; namely in the wake of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackery’s death. The women posted their comments on Facebook. Later on the police release both of the women. The police decide to close the criminal cases against them yet the arrests attract widespread public protest. According to the public, the police misuses their power by invoking Section 66A inter-alia contending that; it violates the freedom of speech and expression.
Therefore the Section is unconstitutional also on the ground that it takes within its sweep protected speech. The speech that is innocent in nature and; is liable therefore to be used in such a way as to have a chilling effect on free speech and; would, therefore, have to be struck down on the grounds of overbreadth.
Section 66A of the Information technology Act, 2000 is struck down in its entirety as being violative of Article 19(1)(a). Article 19(2) does not save the said section. Section 69A of the IT Act states about blocking for access of information by the public is constitutionally valid.
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