Rejoice for the Supreme Court has struck down Section 66A of the Information and Technology Act. This is the biggest victory for supporters of free speech in recent years.
Section 66A, which was also dubbed ‘Facebook arrest law’, gave the police the right to arrest people for posting “offensive content” on the internet. What constituted “offensive content” was, however, never explained in clear words.
Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc.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.Explanation.— For the purpose of this section, terms “electronic mail” and “electronic mail message” means a message or information created or transmitted or received on a computer, computer system, computer resource or communication device including attachments in text, images, audio, video and any other electronic record, which may be transmitted with the message.
It is this nebulous use of words and terms that allowed this section to be misused by politicians and their supporters. Prominent among those who were arrested under this section were:
In 2012: Aseem Trivedi, Mumbai — For cartoons that mocked the parliament for the regular adjournments. Shaheen Dhada and Renu Srinivasan (The Palghar girls), Mumbai — One questioned on Facebook why the entire city was shutdown for Bal Thackeray’s funeral and the other simply liked the post. Ambikesh Mahapatra and Subrata Sengupta, Jadavpur — Arrested for circulating a cartoon taking a dig at Mamata Banerjee for forcing then Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi, a member of her own party, out of office. Ravi Srinivasan, Puducherry — Arrested for posting ‘offensive’ messages on Twitter about Congress leader P Chidambaram’s son Karti Chidambaram. In 2013 Kanwal Bharti, Uttar Pradesh — Arrested for protesting the suspension of IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal by the ruling Samajwadi Party government on Facebook and pointing fingers at Azam Khan.
In 2014 Devu Chodankar, Goa — Booked for posting anti-Modi comment. Class XI student, Rampur — Sent to jail for posting “objectionable” comments against SP leader Azam Khan.
The Bench said that Section 66A clearly affects the right to freedom of speech and expression enshrined under the Constitution of India.
Shreya comes from a family of lawyers; her mother is a Supreme Court lawyer and her grandmother was a judge. She is the niece of Congress leader Kapil Sibal’s daughter-in-law. And you know the connection between Sibal and Section 66A.