A student was arrested by the Andhra Pradesh CID for posting that the Cyclone Huhud, which hit parts of Andhra Pradesh earlier this month, for stating that the cycle was good, and natures way of punishing those who did not vote for the YSR Congress Party, reports the Hindu. The student has been booked under Section 66A and sections 66-A (b) of IT Act and 153 of the IPC. We couldn’t locate the press release cited in the report on the Andhra CID’s outdated website, which quotes AP CID Additional DGP, Dwarakal Tirumala Rao as saying that the student “was arrested as he tried to cause disaffection among people by his facebook posts”.

This case illustrates the issue with the draconian IT Act (2008), which states:

66 A Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc.
Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,-
a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or
b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will, persistently makes by making use of such computer
resource or a communication device,
c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two three years and with fine.

Government has failed to fix the implementation of Section 66A

In November 2012, the Indian Government had issued guidelines which mandated the approval from an officer of DCP (Deputy Commissioner of Police) level in the rural areas and of IG (Inspector General) level in the metros before registering complaints under Section 66 (A) of the IT Act. 

What this effectively means is that in this instance, a senior police official has approved the enforcement of Section 66A against a student who claimed that a cyclone was nature’s way of punishing someone who didn’t vote in a particular manner.

People say the most bizarre things on Facebook and Twitter, and if this is standard by which our updates are going to be assessed by a senior police official, then over a hundred million people on Facebook in India, and the few hundred thousand of us noisy people (I’m guessing) on Twitter are potentially facing arrest for being grossly offensive, annoying, causing inconvenience, insulting and maybe even ill will.

The so-called fix from the Indian government has failed, and the implementation of the law is still draconian and arbitrary. It gives immense power to the police and the state, and it’s time that the government amended the IT Act to remove all its ambiguity and arbitrariness.

DO NOT annoy the Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad

We would recommend that you not be annoying, and not risk violating the IT Act, by tweeting or facebooking to the Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad (on Twitter/Facebook), that Section 66A has failed and it needs to be amended. Don’t inconvenience him. Also, do not use the hashtag #66AFail.

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Also, if you think Section 66A is problematic, read: You can now be arrested for sharing “objectionable” content in Karnataka