Section 66A of IT Act-1
21/07/2021

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Context:

  • Six years after it struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, the Supreme Court earlier this month termed its continued use by law enforcement agencies of various states as “a shocking state of affairs” and sought a response from the Centre.
  • The Centre has now written to states, asking them not to register cases under the repealed provision and withdraw any such case that may have been filed.
  • In 2015, the apex court struck down the law in the landmark case Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, calling it “open-ended and unconstitutionally vague”, and thus expanded the contours of free speech to the Internet.

What did Section 66A do?

  • Introduced by the then government in 2008, the amendment to the IT Act, 2000, gave the government power to arrest and imprison an individual for allegedly “offensive and menacing” online posts, and was passed without discussion in Parliament.
  • Section 66A empowered police to make arrests over what policemen, in terms of their subjective discretion, could construe as “offensive” or “menacing” or for the purposes of causing annoyance, inconvenience, etc.
  • It prescribed the punishment for sending messages through a computer or any other communication device like a mobile phone or a tablet, and a conviction could fetch a maximum of three years in jail.

Why was the law criticised?

  • The problem was with the vagueness about what is “offensive”. The word having a very wide connotation, was open to distinctive, varied interpretations.
  • It was seen as subjective, and what might have been innocuous for one person, could lead to a complaint from someone else and, consequently, an arrest under Section 66A if the police prima facie accepted the latter person’s view.
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