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Section 66A has no place in free society

Bengaluru, Feb 12, 2015, DHNS: 23:11 IST
The government’s submission before the Supreme Court that Section 66A of the Information Technology Act is needed to combat cyber crimes is wrong and fallacious.

The constitutional validity of sections of the Act, especially 66A, has been challenged in the court on the ground of its potential to abridge freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution.

Ever since Section 66A was introduced in the Act in 2009, it has been criticised by civil rights groups, the media and other liberal sections as wrongly and badly drafted and draconian. The BJP had disfavoured it when it was in the opposition. But the NDA government is now defending the section as an essential element in the fight against cyber crimes.

The section prescribes three years of imprisonment to anyone found guilty of causing ‘‘annoyance’’ or ‘’inconvenience’’ to others through the internet or by sending ‘’offensive’’ messages through devices such as computers, tablets or mobile phones.

Other words that have been used to describe the offence are equally vague. They include words which can cause obstruction, insult, injury, hatred or ill will, among others. All of these words can be subjectively interpreted.

A large number of postings in the social media can be brought under the purview of the section and those who have posted them can be hauled up. It has happened many times. Two school girls from Pune who complained about the shutdown in Mumbai during Bal Thackeray’s funeral and a cartoonist who lampooned Mamata Banerjee, were arrested under this section.

There have been other cases also. It is easy to be annoyed by the slightest of remarks. Anyone can also claim that some words caused inconvenience to him or her. It may not be difficult to find grounds for causing ill will or hatred in words in some situations. Police men are not trained or equipped to judge the meanings and nuances of words in most cases.

The results are only bound to be oppressive actions against people and curbs on their freedom. The government told the court that the excesses committed under the section were only ‘’aberrations’’. But the fact that many ‘’aberrations’’ have been reported shows that the section can be frequently misused.

Words that do not precisely define an offence should not be used in a statute. They will invite authoritarian responses and will be misused for personal, political and other wrong purposes. It has also been pointed out that all offences sought to be dealt with under Section 66A can be dealt with under sections of the IPC. It has no place in a free society.

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