The arrest of a 19-year-old boy by the Uttar Pradesh Police for allegedly posting an objectionable statement, attributed to a local leader, on Facebook is in contradiction to the Union government’s repeated assurances in the Supreme Court on free speech on the social media.
What was the government’s assurance?
- The government had said before the Supreme Court that a person was free to express political dissent, contrarian views and decent humour, and no one would “dare” charge him under Section 66(A) of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
- It had promised that dissent would not be classified as “grossly offensive” or “menacing” under the provision.
Controversy over Section 66A:
- The law came in for criticism after several arrests by police over Facebook and other social media postings.
- Two young women were arrested in Mumbai over a posting which the Shiv Sena found offensive.
- A lecturer was arrested in Kolkata for forwarding cartoons of chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
- A writer was arrested in UP for criticising the suspension of IAS officer DS Nagpal.
- In the wake of these incidents, many petitions were filed in SC challenging the law as being too vague, broad and arbitrary. SC in an interim order passed at the outset, restrained police from arresting anyone without clearing such action first with their superiors in such cases.
Arguments against the Law:
- The SC has received petitions demanding that the law either be aligned with Article 19(2) of the Constitution or be struck down.
- The opponents argue the I-T Act cannot prescribe restrictions on a citizen’s right to freedom of speech and expression that were wider than warranted under Article 19(2), which allows the state to curtail them only on the grounds of public order, security of state etc. Any other restriction on free speech on social media would be an unreasonable restriction under the Constitution.
- Section 66A defines the punishment for sending “offensive” messages through a computer or any other communication device like a mobile phone or a tablet. A conviction can fetch a maximum of three years in jail and a fine.
Sources: The Hindu, Wiki.