Section 66A of IT Act still in use – UPSC GS2

What is the issue?
  • Section 66A of the IT Act was struck down as unconstitutional six years ago. For the second time in two years, the supreme court has been informed that Section 66A of the IT Act, is still being invoked by the police and in some trial courts.
  • It is surprising that the police headquarters and prosecutors in the various States had not disseminated the effect of the Court ruling among officers manning police stations.
  • There were also instances of courts framing charges under Section 66A even after lawyers had cited the 2015 judgment. The PUCL has said as many as 745 cases are still pending in district courts in 11 States.
Shreya Singhal (2015) case vs Section 66A of the IT Act
  • Section 66A made messages, which are deemed to be offensive to anyone, or those that caused annoyance, a criminal offence. If these messages were sent through a computer or computer resource. It prescribed a prison term of up to three years on conviction.
  • In its landmark judgment in Shreya Singhal (2015), the Court ruled that the provision was vague and violated the freedom of free speech.
  • Further, the court observed that the provision upsets the balance between the exercise of the free speech right and the imposition of reasonable restrictions on it.
What needs to be done?
  • Police officers who receive complaints and register them as First Information Reports may not be aware of the judgment (Shreya Singhal).
  • However, Ignorance of the law is no excuse for the citizen, and it must equally be no excuse for police officers who include invalidated sections in FIRs.
  • Police chiefs and the directorates of prosecution must proactively begin a process of conveying to the lower courts and investigators about all important judgments.

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