The recent arrest of two girls in Mumbai for posting alleged “objecionable” posts on Facebook has drawn attention once again to the notorious Section 66A of the IT Act. Legal experts say it’s vague.
What more, it carries a punishment of three years imprisonment. The guideline that cases can be booked under it only with the approval of a DCP or IG in urban and metropolitan areas hasn’t allayed the fears of netizens and experts.
“The phraseology of the Act is vague, so it can be abused. I have seen many people share cartoons of so many politicians and cricketers. Can all of them be arrested under this Act? I will have to think twice about posting anything online from now!” says Arun, a software employee.
While his colleague, Srinivas Kadiri, opines, “This is a means by which the government is trying to impose political reasons and get away by calling them religious. This is not acceptable. We have been living in an era of internet freedom. One individual cannot impose such restrictions on people. The law needs to be re-considered.”
Vasanth Kannabiran, lawyer and rights activist, observes, “The government is and always will be both defensive and evasive on the issue of free speech. It would like an image of a liberal government with silent submissive subjects. Speech and free speech undermine authority and instil a sense of insecurity among rulers.”
Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal defended the section by citing similar laws in the UK and the US. But experts point out that the UK laws have much lower punishment of six months imprisonment or less.
Add to it the fact that law enforcement agencies in the UK and the US are defined and mandated by definitive Acts to act in accordance with the Constitution. In India, the law has only led to arbitrary blocking of websites and content on social media.