Section 66A quashed: Citizens can still be arrested for online posts

NEW DELHI (TIP): The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Section 66A of I-T Act may infuse social network site addicts with a sense of unrestricted freedom of expression, but it is a deja vu situation for them as indiscrete postings in social network sites could still invite arrest under similar provisions of Indian Penal Code.

In most of the cases slapped against persons for posting offensive views on social network sites, the police had invariably invoked Sections 153 and 505 of the IPC along with Section 66A of I-T Act, which is a bailable offence. It is the invoking of additional IPC sections which had allowed the police to arrest the persons for offensive posts.

Section 153 and 153A provides for registration of a case against a person who gives a statement either in writing or orally that incites communal riots or provokes communal tension and enmity between communities. IT is punishable with imprisonment from 6 months to one year with fine. Section 505 punishes persons who spread rumour through their statement to cause public disorder with an imprisonment up to 3 years.

Section 66A was not part of the original I-T Act enacted during NDA government in 2000. The UPA government had amended the Act in 2009 and brought Section 66A into force October 27, 2009. At that time Veerappa Moily was the law minister and A Raja was the minister for information technology. Kapil Sibal succeeded Raja as I-T minister.

After the uproar over the arrest of two girls in Palghar, Sibal had issued an advisory to all state governments that no arrest under Section 66A could be made by police unless the concerned Superintendent of Police issued an order in writing.

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Moily said: “I welcome the Supreme Court judgment. It empowers the people to have freedom of expression.” He refused to be drawn into any blame game over enacting of Section 66A. He said law should be dynamic and evolve with time to meet exigencies peculiar to a particular time. “Now the Supreme Court declared law is the law of the land,” he said.

Sibal too welcomed the apex court judgment. However, he sounded a caution. “Section 66A is not the culprit as it is a bailable offence. The police used to invoke provisions of Indian Penal Code to effect the arrests. So, one should be well advised to still exercise restraint while exercising free speech on social network sites,” he said.

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