I am annoyed and inconvenienced. Someone needs to go to jail! Presenting Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act.
“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,
(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.”
Section 66A of the IT (Amendment) Act, 2008,which states the punishments for sending offensive messages, is “draconian” for sure, as many people like to call it. More importantly, it is in violation of Article 19(a) of our Constitution. The simple fact that some information is “grossly offensive” or that it causes “annoyance” or “inconvenience” while being known to be false cannot be reason for curbing freedom of speech. Unless it is related to decency or morality, public order or defamation (Art. 19(2)).
Chaganti Rahul Reddy, a final year law student, was arrested by Andhra Pradesh (AP) Crime Investigation Department (CID) for a facebook post he made on October 12 regarding Cyclone Hudhud. Reddy posted “I love you hudhud for nature having selectively punished those who cheated – feeling God is there”, as reported by NDTV.
The AP CID had filed a case on October 15 under sections 66-A (b) of IT Act and 153(a) of the IPC against him in response to a complaint.
66-A (B): sending 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.
Section 153(a) IPC : Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.
In The Hindu’s report, they hint that the “cheated” referred to all those who did not vote for the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) in Visakhapatnam (most affected by the cyclone), as Reddy is also an activist of YSRCP. (Good job connecting the dots.)
In a statement, AP CID Additional Directory General of Police (DGP), Dwarakal Tirumala said that Reddy was arrested because he tried to cause “disaffection” among people with his facebook posts. A press release issued by the AP CID claimed that Reddy’s post was “irresponsible and anti-people”.
Reprimanding a person for expressing himself is a bid dark grey loop-hole. Reddy’s comment was deleted. But it suggests that he believed in the fact that people deserved to die based on their political affiliations. And this man was a public figure?
Apar Gupta, a Delhi based lawyer who works on cyber laws, writes in Firstpost that since 2008, there has been an increase in the number of citizens using the law against fellow citizens. “Section 66A has set a really low threshold for the police to arrest anyone who said anything offending or dissenting online. There is no justification for these arrests,” says Gupta in the article.
According to Shehla Rashid in the same report, there have been many arrests under 66A, but not nearly those many convictions.
With definitions of really important words in the section missing, like “offensive” “annoyance” or “inconvenience” this law is up there amongst the most badly-thought out, worst-drafted and most easily-misused laws in the “biggest democracy in the world”. Thanks Kapil Sibal, you gave all future governments the most convenient gift of all.