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Section 66A may be back again, with a different name and packaging

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It looks like the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is seriously considering bringing back Section 66A of the IT Act, 2008 albeit in a slightly different avatar, barely 3 weeks after the Supreme Court scrapped it for being unconstitutional, reports PTI. The report mentions that the home ministry has set up a committee to look into how national security concerns can be accommodated in the IT Act, now that Section 66A is no longer available. Representatives from the Intelligence Bureau, National Investigation Agency and Delhi Police are also part of the committee. This committee is expected to submit its report within a month’s time.

This time the government apparently wants to eliminate all ambiguous expressions like ” grossly offensive”, “menacing character” and “causing annoyance, inconvenience”, which were open to interpretation and exploitation. The Times of India reports that some of the offenses this new provision will look to address include incitement of violence, posts of a communal nature, messages on social media that might affect India’s relation with another country and, apparently, online activity that’s not moral or decent!

I would love to point out that morality and decency are subjective matters and trying to control online activity using these parameters is as ambiguous as it gets, but instead let’s look at this from a different perspective. A toned down version of Section 66A will be as dangerous as the one struck down by the SC, because it will once again provide those in power the opportunity to dictate online conversations. As Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman had said in the SC’s order, “66A is invalid and it cannot be saved even if the government says it wont abuse the law.”

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.

Back in 2013, SC had directed all state governments to implement the Indian government guidelines on Section 66A, which required the approval of a senior police official before arresting any person for posting defamatory content on social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter. It didn’t work out then, so what’s changed to believe that defined parameters and rules of implementation of the law will work this time?

Image Credit: Flickr user Brett Tatman

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