censorship

The Police made 3137 arrests (pdf) under the defunct Section 66A of the IT Act in 2015, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. Of this, 82 citizens were juveniles, or under 18 years of age.

Overall 4,154 cases were reported under Section 66A during the year 2015 of which only 155 ended as ‘final report false’. Considering the pending cases from the previous year (2014), the total cases under investigation for offences under this section stands at 7,572. The total arrests made under the IT act stood at 5,102, meaning arrests under Section 66A of Information Technology Act, that was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of India in 2015 accounted for nearly 61.5% of all cases in which arrests were made.

Notable cases which used the banned Section 66A include the summoning of Ram Gopal Varma in June this year, for having made fun of Lord Ganesha on Twitter, mocking his physical appearance and questioning his divine abilities, back in 2014. Similarly, in April 2015, police in Thane filed a FIR against a Facebook user for allegedly posting unsavoury comments about prime minister Narendra Modi. In July 2015, in two separate incidents, eight persons in UP were arrested over posting “objectionable content” on Facebook.

Section 66(A) of Information Technology Act, 2008 is controversial because of its broadly worded language with expressions such as “grossly offensive,” “annoyance,” “inconvenience,”ill will.” Law enforcement authorities have often invoked it to muzzle any kind of offensive or dissenting voices, and critics say that it is against free speech.

It also needs to be pointed out that the arbitrary implementation of Section 66A by the police, that we had become so familiar with, is unlikely to change unless they’re made aware of the ever-evolving nature of the Internet, and especially social media platforms, and how we interact with and through these platforms. The ignorance is apparent when police continue to file FIRs under the now defunct Section 66A.

What’s even more worrying that the government is reportedly trying to bring back Section 66A albeit in a milder form to combat incitement of terror on social media. Officials told The Economic Times in February 2016 that the clauses will be specific, unambiguous and clear.

Image source: Carolyn Tiryb under CC BY-SA 2.0