Reports on Thursday have stated that the Centre deems section 66A of the Information and Technology Act to be a vital regulation. Such a comment, therefore, adds to the government’s narrative that the internet needs stricter curbs than print or television. “On Internet every individual is a director, producer and broadcaster and a person can send offensive material to millions of people in nano second just with a click of button,” said additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta to the Supreme Court. Although the Centre had earlier told the Supreme Court that posting messages on social media relating to freedom of expression will not be seen as an offence, it admitted on Thursday that the law itself is well-intentioned.
In an earlier appearance, the Centre reportedly told the court that phrases like ‘annoyance, inconvenience, danger or obstruction’ used in Section 66 A of the IT Act has ‘no correlation or connection with any citizen’s freedom of speech and expression.’ Such statements go against the spirit of those very petitions that were filed in the apex court against Section 66A. These petitions were filed primarily because certain provisions in them were deemed to be exploitative and ripe for abuse, especially by state authorities. Interestingly, when BJP was in the Opposition it had likened the provisions of section 66A to the Emergency. One such petition came from a lawyer of the two girls, who were arrested in November 2012 for a Facebook post against the shutdown of Mumbai during Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray’s funeral procession.
Governments, however, will continue to perpetuate such acts till it amends this very provision of the Act. Unless and until these provisions are amended, incidents such as those in Mumbai will continue to occur. It will, however, be interesting to see how the government-appointed panel establishes a balance between free speech and provisions in the IT Law. Unless definitive parameters are set for Section 66A, with key amendments, free online speech will continue to face abuse.