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ISSUES RELATED TO SEC. 66A OF IT ACT 2000

ABSTRACT

Section 66A of the Information Technology Act of 2000 made sending offensive content through a computer or other electronic device a serious offence.

The rule also made it illegal to provide information that the sender thought to be false.

Section 66A provided for three years in prison if any social media communication was determined to be "annoying" or "grossly offensive."

Under this clause, even sending emails to annoy, inconvenience, deceive or mislead the recipient about the origin of the message was punishable.


ISSUES

  • Section 66A's weakness was that it created an offence based on undefined actions, such as causing "inconvenience, danger, obstruction, and insult," which do not fall under the exceptions granted under Article 19 of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression

  • Section 66A lacked procedural safeguards found in other sections of the law with comparable goals, such as the requirement to acquire the Centre's approval before taking action. Local governments might act autonomously, literally at the mercy of their political overlords.

  • Against the fundamental right to speech


WHAT IS IT ACT 2000?

Imagine one day you wake up and all of the data you stored in your phone in different applications like WhatsApp, Instagram etc has been hacked. What will be the next step taken by you? What will you do? Will you sue these social media applications for not protecting your information?

This is where the information technology act 2000 comes into the picture. The Act outlines numerous offences relating to a breach of an individual's data and privacy and prescribes punishment or consequences for them. It also discusses intermediaries and the power of social media. With the advancement of technology and e-commerce, there has been a significant surge in cybercrime and data and authentic information-related offences. Even material related to the country's security and integrity was not safe, thus the government decided to restrict social media activity and data contained therein. The article describes the Act's objectives and features, as well as the different violations and penalties specified in the Act.


Background

In 1996, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law created a model law on e-commerce and digital complexities. It also mandated that each country have its own rules governing e-commerce and cybercrime. The Act was passed in 2000 to protect people and the government's data, making India the 12th country in the world to pass cybercrime legislation. It is also known as the IT Act, and it establishes a legal framework for the protection of data relating to e-commerce and digital signatures. It was revised in 2008 and 2018 to better fulfil the requirements of society. The Act also establishes the powers and limitations of intermediaries. The act is divided into 13 chapters, 90 sections and 2 schedules.


ARTICLE 66A

Section 66A of the Information Technology Act of 2000 penalises delivering offensive messages via communication devices. These messages could be any information created, communicated, or received on the computer system or device, including attachments in the form of text, photos, audio, or any other electronic record that is sent with the messages. One of the most essential fundamental rights guaranteed by Article 19 of the Indian Constitution is freedom of expression. In its decision in the matter of Shreya Singhal v. Union of India (2015), the Supreme Court of India emphasised the importance of free speech and expression.The disparity between the court's decision and Section 66A is explained by a political atmosphere in which free speech, dissent, and valid criticism are perceived to be used in bad faith.

The Information Technology Act of 2000 was enacted to legalise electronic data, prevent cybercrime, and ensure security practices. In 2008, the Information Technology (Amendment) Act was passed to combat terrorism using electronic and digital mediums. Section 66A of the Act was also amended to regulate various types of internet crimes such as sending offensive messages over the internet, digital communication, video voyeurism, leakage of confidential data, and so on. Section 66A of the Act offers a provision for punishment, with imprisonment for a term of up to three years as well as a fine. The explanation defines the term electronic mail and an electronic mail message is a message or information made or communicated on a computer, including attachments in text, image, or another format.


ISSUES RELATED TO SEC. 66A

Section 66A of the Information Technology Act of 2000 was a contentious section that addressed the penalty for delivering offensive messages over communication services. However, in March 2015, the Supreme Court of India ruled that Section 66A was unconstitutional and overturned it. Here are some of the major difficulties raised by Section 66A:

  1. One of the key issues with Section 66A was its imprecise and vague wording, which rendered it vulnerable to misuse and overreach. The provision made it a crime to send any information that was "grossly offensive" or had a "menacing character" without specifying the extent and boundaries of these terms. This ambiguity leads to inappropriate interpretations and the possibility of abuse.

  2. Violation of Freedom of Expression: Section 66A was criticised for infringing on the basic right to free expression provided by the Indian Constitution. The provision was viewed as unduly restrictive and capable of suppressing dissenting voices because it criminalised the communication of any offensive material, regardless of intent or context.

  3. Misuse and Chilling Effect: Section 66A has been utilised to target individuals for expressing their thoughts online on various occasions. Many cases have been documented in which Section 66A was used to arrest people for publishing critical or satirical content on social media platforms. This had a chilling effect on free speech, as people felt wary of expressing their opinions for fear of legal ramifications.

  4. Inadequate safeguards: Section 66A lacked adequate controls to avoid its misuse. The provision authorised the arrest and detention of individuals without the need for previous authorization from higher authorities. Due to the lack of checks and balances, it was vulnerable to exploitation by law enforcement agencies and fostered an environment of uncertainty and dread among internet users.

  5. Other Provisions Superseded: The IT Act has been updated throughout time to include additional particular provisions dealing with online harassment, cyberbullying, and offences linked to communication services. Sections 66D (punishment for cheating by impersonation using a computer resource) and 67 (punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form) address the concerns raised by Section 66A but in a more defined and balanced manner.


MY ANALYSIS

In the case of Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 66A infringed the right to free speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. The court ruled that the provision was not reasonable and did not meet the test of constitutionality under Article 19(2), which allows restrictions on free speech only on specific grounds such as public order, defamation, and incitement to an offense. The judgment highlighted the need for clear and narrowly defined provisions that balance the protection of individual rights with legitimate concerns regarding public order and security.

I believe the term offensive in section 66A of the IT Act is overly broad. What is offensive to one person may not be offensive to another. Furthermore, it was not an inflammatory comment or statement; rather, it was a statement questioning the logic of the Mumbai shutdown. Should the death of a person, regardless of prominence or stature, result in the entire shutdown of our country's commercial capital? This explanation makes no sense to me. I believe that the cops arrested the girl in haste and without probable cause. Perhaps the police acted in haste because political parties were engaged.

The most important details in this text are that police in India are often psychologically impacted by political dynamics and the aftermath of violence, rather than making an unbiased legal choice. This is due to the police being controlled and beholden to political masters rather than the law of the land and the judges. Freedom of expression cannot be absolute, but the circumstances or situations in which it is not absolute must be practical and sensible. Several decisions of the Court have emphasised the importance of free speech and expression, both from the standpoint of individual liberty and from the one of our democratic form of government. For example, in Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras, the Court declared that freedom of expression is at the heart of all democratic organisation.


CONCLUSION

Section 66A of the Information Technology Act of 2000 has frequently been misconstrued and misapplied. Freedom of speech and expression is important in any democratic country's legal system. Our country should not follow the example of North Korea, where residents are afraid to speak up and share their views and opinions. I entirely agree that defamation and sedition are two examples of logical exceptions to freedom of speech and expression.

In the most recent case of Kanhaiya Kumar, the words spoken were such that they could cause danger and public disorder, and they were spoken aloud, but in the given case, the girl had no intention of committing any of the listed misconduct in section 66A, but rather had questioned the reasoning for the Mumbai shut down, which she did through a comment on Facebook.

Freedom of speech and expression is essential for democracy, as it has a direct impact on the attitudes of 1.3 billion people towards their country. The Supreme Court decision to grant the judgement in favour of Shreya Singhal was reasonable, as the closure of Mumbai on that particular day was not acceptable. The Supreme Court decision to grant the judgement in favour of Shreya Singhal was reasonable.










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