Recently, the SC directed state chief secretaries to take back cases registered under the repealed Section 66A of the Information Technology Act within three weeks. According to an SC bench, led by the Chief Justice of India (CJI), cases are still being registered under the dead Section.
In 2015, calling freedom of thought and speech cardinal, the SC had repealed this Section under which a person posting obscene online content could be imprisoned for up to 3 years and fined.
What was ‘Section 66A of the IT Act’?
- 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 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.
- Shreya Singhal v. Union of India of 2015 – A landmark judgment that expanded the contours of free speech to the Internet, the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A, calling it “open-ended and unconstitutionally vague”.
- Article 19(1)(a) gives people the right to speech and expression whereas 19(2) accords the state the power to impose “reasonable restrictions” on exercise of this right.
Why did the court struck down Section 66A?
The court said the provision, introduced in 2009 to the original Act of 2000 –
- used expressions “completely open-ended and undefined”.
- Every expression used was “nebulous” in meaning.
- What may be offensive to one may not be offensive to another.
- What may cause annoyance or inconvenience to one may not cause annoyance or inconvenience to another.
- Even the expression ‘persistently’ is completely imprecise.