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DAILY NEWS ANALYSIS

  • 18 July, 2021

  • 5 Min Read

MHA requested States and UTs not to use Section 66A of IT Act, 2000

MHA requested States and UTs not to use Section 66A of IT Act, 2000

  • The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has requested States and Union Territories (UTs)to direct all police stations under their jurisdiction not to register cases under the repealed Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
  • It has also asked the States and UTs to sensitize law enforcement agencies for the compliance of the order issued by the Supreme Court on 24.03.2015.
  • The MHA has also requested that if any case has been booked in States and UTs under section 66A of the IT Act, 2000, such cases should be immediately withdrawn.
  • The Supreme Court in its judgment on 24.03.2015 in the matter of Shreya Singhal Vs. Union of India, had struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
  • This made Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 null and void with effect from the date of the order, therefore 24.03.2015 and hence no action could be taken under this section.

About Section 66A of IT Act, 2000

  • Section 66A dealt with information related crimes in which sending information, by means of a computer resource or a communication device, which is inter alia offensive, derogatory and menacing is made a punishable offence.
  • In Shreya Singhal v. Union of India judgement, Justices Rohinton F. Nariman and J. Chelameswar had observed that the weakness of Section 66A lay in the fact that it had created an offence on the basis of undefined actions: such as causing “inconvenience, danger, obstruction and insult”, which do not fall among the exceptions granted under Article 19 of the Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of speech.
  • The court also observed that the challenge was to identify where to draw the line. Traditionally, it has been drawn at incitement while terms like obstruction and insult remain subjective.
  • In addition, the court had noted that Section 66A did not have procedural safeguards like other sections of the law with similar aims, such as :
    1. The need to obtain the concurrence of the Centre before action can be taken.
    2. Local authorities could proceed autonomously, literally on the whim of their political masters.
  • The judgment had found that Section 66A was contrary to both Articles 19 (free speech) and 21 (right to life) of the Constitution. The entire provision was struck down by the court.
  • After that government had appointed an expert committee (T.K. Viswanathan committee) which proposed a legislation to meet the challenge of hate speech online.

Recent news:

  • The Supreme Court on Monday found it “distressing”, “shocking” and “terrible” that people were still booked and tried under Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act even six years after it struck down the provision as unconstitutional and a violation of free speech.
  • Section 66A had prescribed three years’ imprisonment if a social media message caused “annoyance” or was found “grossly offensive”.
  • The court, in the Shreya Singhal judgment authored by Justice Rohinton F. Nariman in March 2015, had concluded that the provision was vague and worded arbitrarily.
  • On Monday, senior advocate Sanjay Parikh and advocate Aparna Bhat, for the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), said the number of cases registered under Section 66A had actually increased post the judgment.
  • “What is going on is terrible, distressing! We will issue notice,” Justice Nariman, heading a three-judge Bench comprising Justices K.M. Joseph and B.R. Gavai, exclaimed.
  • Attorney General K.K. Venugopal pointed out that law books published post the verdict featured the non-existent Section 66A “in full”. “The police officer, while registering a case, looks at only the Section in the main text... The fact that the Section has been struck down is given only as a footnote...,” he submitted.

Source: PIB


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