Section “66A” of the IT act

Section 66A in The Information Technology Act, 2000

66A 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;

or(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.

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, image, audio, video and any other electronic record, which may be transmitted with the message.

Unconstitutional

Shreya Singhal v. Union of India is a judgement by a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India in 2015, on the issue of online speech and intermediary liability in India. The Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, relating to restrictions on online speech, as unconstitutional on grounds of violating the freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. The Court further held that the Section was not saved by virtue of being a ‘reasonable restriction’ on the freedom of speech under Article 19(2). The Supreme Court also read down Section 79 and Rules under the Section. It held that online intermediaries would only be obligated to take down content on receiving an order from a court or government authority. The case is considered a watershed moment for online free speech in India.

Recent buzz

On July 5 this year, a Bench led by Justice Rohinton F. Nariman said it was “distressing,” “shocking” and “terrible” that people are still booked and tried under Section 66A even six years after the apex court struck down the provision as unconstitutional and a violation of free speech.NGO People’s Union of Civil Liberties, represented by senior advocate Sanjay Parikh and advocate Aparna Bhat, had drawn the court’s attention to the violations.Justice Nariman had authored the judgment trashing Section 66A in a petition filed by law student Shreya Singhal, who highlighted cases of young people being arrested and charged under the ambiguous provision for their social media posts.

“Section 66A of the IT Act has continued to be in use not only within police stations but also in cases before trial courts across India. This information was available on Zombie Tracker website, developed by a team of independent researchers… The findings of the website reveal that as on March 10, 2021, as many as 745 cases are still pending and active before district courts in 11 States, wherein the accused are being prosecuted for offences under Section 66A of the IT Act,” the PUCL has submitted.