Facebook arrests unwarranted, but Section 66A not ultra vires: Vahanvati
The apex court sought response from Union Government on a petition challenging the Constitutional validity of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act.
What’s the matter? What is Section 66A of IT Act? What did the Attorney-General tell the court?
What is the matter?
It is alleged that many states are misusing Section 66A of the Information Technology Act for arresting persons sharing messages on social networking websites. Recently, police in Maharashtra arrested two women after one posted on Facebook a message questioning the shutdown in Mumbai after the death of a political leader and the other ‘liked’ it. They were slapped non-bailable offences of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The two were charged with IPC Section 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) and Section 505 (statements conducing to public mischief), both non-bailable offences, in addition to Section 66A of IT Act. The Sec 66A has been challenged in the Supreme Court through a PIL filed by a student named Shreya Singhal.
What is Section 66A of IT Act?
Under Section 66A of IT Act, it is an offence to send grossly offensive, menacing and annoying or hatred causing information by means of computer resource or communication device. It can attract a jail term of up to 3 years any information which is grossly offensive, menacing and causes annoyance or hatred.
What did the Attorney-General tell the court?
Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati maintained that the provision was well-intended. Although he accepted that the arrests made by the police was indefensible and unjustifiable, he maintained that Section 66A is not ultra vires (beyond the legal power or authority of a person or official or body etc). He told that law is based on the U.K. and U.S. laws enacted in 2003 and 1996.