The Supreme Court today declared Section 66A of Information Technology Act as unconstitutional and struck it down. Section 66A prescribes the punishment for sending offensive messages allowed arrests for posting offensive content on social media sites through computers or any other communication device such as a mobile phone or a tablet on the internet or posting on social networking sites an offence punishable by up to three years in jail.
According to the act, 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,
(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.
This section had been widely misused by police in various states to arrest innocent persons for posing their comments on social network sites on social events and political leaders. The court said such a law hit at the root of liberty and freedom of expression, two cardinal pillars of democracy.
The court said the section has to be erased from the law books as it has gone much beyond the reasonable restrictions put by Constitution on freedom of speech. The court, however, allowed the government to block websites if their contents had the potential to create communal disturbance, social disorder or affect India’s relationship with other countries. The government had said the provision could not be quashed just because of its potential misuse. Posting pictures and comments on social networking sites which hurt religious sentiments could not be tolerated and people must be prosecuted.