Room for misuse in law against ‘offensive’ posts on internet

NAT

The ministry functionary said that the police would have to be sensitised to ensure that while enforcing this law, the Right to Freedom of Express and Speech guaranteed to citizens under the Constitution is not curbed.

Telecom and IT Minister Kapil Sibal has also said that the police action was questionable and there is a need to educate law-enforcement agencies about the various provisions of the IT Act to prevent misuse.

Senior advocate Atul Nanda feels the wording in the section has an element of ambiguity about the expression "offensive". "Though perceptibly intended to protect against instances of threat mails or cyber-stalking, it is too broadly articulated to serve as an effective tool to combat the said offence and therefore is a double-edged weapon that can be misused to harass innocent persons as well," Nanda said.

Incidentally, the Information Technology (Amendment) Bill, 2006, which added section 66A, was passed without debate in the Lok Sabha on December 22 and in the Rajya Sabha the next day. On both days, Parliament functioning was disrupted over then minority affairs minister A R Antulay's demand that the shooting of Mumbai ATS chief Hemant Karkare in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks should be probed.

Since October 2009, when the amendments were notified by the Ministry of Information Technology, cyber law experts and activists have been urging the UPA government to have a relook.

"Our point is that this law is akin to punishing three people guilty of offences of murder, theft and nuisance with the same punishment. This section does not pay heed to the fact that even a valid and true criticism of the actions of an individual, when brought to his notice, can amount to annoyance," notes Pranesh Prakash of the Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore.

Early this year, a PIL was filed in the Madras High Court challenging the legality and constitutionality of section 66A. This followed the arrest of an India Against Corruption activist on the charge of posting an offensive message on social media against Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram's son Karti. The activist was arrested by the police on a complaint lodged by the minister's son.

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