The Modi government should take a stand on the draconian provisions of the Information Technology Act. The slew of petitions before the Supreme Court is a measure of the concern Section 66 and its sub-sections have caused among all IT users. They are so sweeping in nature that anybody who sends or forwards an email, which may be “offensive”, can be given three years’ imprisonment. What constitutes an offensive mail is for the prosecuting agency to decide. Of course, the court will decide if the person concerned should be punished but the case, the arrest and the public ridicule will be traumatic for him.
Sometime back, the then government had taken action against a girl for just “liking” a Facebook post. It was against this background that civil society has been protesting against the questionable provisions of the Act. The law was modelled after a similar piece of legislation in the UK. Whereas the maximum punishment prescribed there is only one month, in India it is three years. When the law was enacted, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came out strongly against it. In fact, the party’s IT cell said the provisions demonstrated the “fascist mindset of the party (Congress) leading this government”. The BJP also saw it as an effort to “enforce emergency-like curbs on free speech” in the cyber space.
At that time, the BJP MPs had even tried to get the Act amended to make it less harsh, though in vain. Now that the BJP is in power and the law can be used against its opponents, it may be tempted to retain it in the statute book. Such a stance would be unacceptable because a party cannot have one opinion when it is in the opposition and quite another when in power. The sections in question contravene the right to freedom of speech the Constitution guarantees to the citizen. The government should file an affidavit, as sought by the court. The affidavit should clearly and categorically say that it will uphold the citizen’s freedom of speech under any circumstances.