We are living in 21st century and this is the era of smart phones and technology and people spend hours and hours on these electronic devices for varies reasons such as for work, education, entertainment, shopping, and for staying connected to the world through different websites and apps. As now everything is available online for everyone and we can’t think of a life without these gadgets and internet connectivity so it is very important to keep an eye on the users and sites for maintaining harmony and peace in the community so that people can live a fearless and peaceful life in a society and that is why almost all the countries of the world has laws and regulations to control cyber crime and to stop violation of laws of that particular country. India too has law and regulation to stop/control unlawful activities on internet.

What is Section 66A of the IT Act?

Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, or also known as 66A IT Act defines the punishment for sending “offensive” messages through a computer, or through any other electronic or communication device such as mobile phones, laptop, tablet etc.

Or this Act made it a punishable offence for any person to

“send, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,-

  • Any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or
  • Any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device,
  • Any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance in inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages,”

Punishment under this Act

A conviction can be given a maximum of three years in jail and a fine.

Shreya Singhal  v. Union of India

In 2015 the Supreme Court of India has given a judgment which was passed by two-judge bench of the Apex Court on the issue of online speech and intermediary liability in India. The Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the Indian Information Technology Act, 2000 (“IT Act”)  regarding the restrictions on online speech , as unconditional on the basis of violating the freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of our Constitution  and further held that the section was not saved by virtue of being a ‘reasonable restriction’ on the freedom of speech under Article 19(2) or we can say that the Apex Court ruled section falls outside Article 19(2) of the Constitution, which relates to freedom of speech. The Supreme Court also read down section79 and rules under the section. It says that online intermediaries would only be obligated to take down content on receiving an order from a court or government authority. The case is considered a watershed moment for online free speech in India.

The vague and arbitrary terms used in the Section is leading to much misuse of both personal and political nature, with several criminal cases being instituted against innocuous instances if online speech, including political commentary and humour. Section 79 of the IT Act and the rules made thereunder, which created an onerous liability regime for internet intermediaries were also challenged in a series of writ petitions before the Supreme Court.