ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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We Do Not 'Like'

Section 66A of the IT Act is an unconstitutional weapon that is being used for political vendetta.

If there ever was a more compelling case of the law being an ass, it must be the way provisions of Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act (notified on 27 October 2009) have been misused recently. Be it the case of Shaheen Dhada and her friend in Palghar, Maharashtra, who were arrested for posting and “liking” (endorsing) an innocuous opinion about the bandh following Bal Thackeray’s death on the s­ocial media website Facebook, or the arrest of India Against Corruption volunteer Ravi Srinivasan in Pondicherry for using Twitter to make a remark about Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram’s son Karthi Chidambaram, the use of Section 66A in these instances shows up the law in a very poor light.

It is not just that the Act has been misused, but the very provisions in the law seem to be unconstitutional. Section 66A p­enalises anyone for “sending false and offensive messages through communication services” and defines such messages as “grossly offensive or of menacing character”. The fact that “grossly offensive” or “menacing” could be subject to any interpretation, not necessarily reasonable, clearly violates the reasonable restrictions imposed on freedom of expression under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. In fact, the scope of the Act’s provisions is so broadly defined that they run afoul of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, repudiating Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology Kapil Sibal’s assertions to the contrary. That the penalty – a cognisable and bailable offence – is up to three years of imprisonment and a fine, much higher than for comparable offences that are not committed using the computer medium, makes it even more draconian.

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