TRANSIT FROM S.66A TO S.69A
Media, recognised as the 4th estate, plays an indispensible role in a democratic setup like that of India. It is the platform for people to exercise their right of freedom of speech and expression. Its importance can never really be rightly stated, it is either understated or overstated, both is subject to the level of threat to enjoyment of the above-stated fundamental right.
Striking down of S.66A- a moment of celebration!
It was a moment of rejoice for the country, when Section 66A of the Information Technology Act was deemed unconstitutional, it was seen as a sensational victory of the people’s right over the Centre’s draconian legislation.
S.66A1 suffered from the vice of poor drafting and vaguely used words, whose construed interpretation is something the legislators themselves would not have thought of. It led to arbitrariness in the actions taken up by the authority as the action itself came to be depended on the whimsical interpretation, often done to meet one’s own convenience. But does the quashing of 66A, guarantee no more abuse of freedom to speech and expression.
Well here’s a little analysis of mine:
Though, it is not undisputed that there is a need for a provision akin 66A for regulating the media freedom of speech and expression, but the new provision must be effectively drafted to reduce the abuse and misuse potential to the minimum.
As per the court order, S. 79 was read down, 118(d) of the KPA struck as unconstitutional, but the validity of S.69A remained unaffected.
However the intention behind this blog is not to dispute the decision of Supreme Court in regards of S.66A, but it has to do with the ignorance of the apex court, with respect to another provision disputed in this bunch matter, i.e. S.69A of the IT Act.
S.69A reads as follows:
“Power to issue directions for blocking for public access of any information through any computer resource:
- Where the Central Government or any of its officer specially authorized by it in this behalf is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient so to do in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above, it may subject to the provisions of sub-sections (2) for reasons to be recorded in writing, by order direct any agency of the Government or intermediary to block access by the public or cause to be blocked for access by public any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource.
- The procedure and safeguards subject to which such blocking for access by the public may be carried out shall be such as may be prescribed.
- The intermediary who fails to comply with the direction issued under sub-section (1) shall be punished with an imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and also be liable to fine.”
The problem with this section is its absolute power to the Centre, which cannot be questioned and an extremely opaque system of blockages. And this happens to have replaced S.66A, in regards of suiting the whims of those in power.
If there is an iota of awareness, on the bare perusal of the provision, the recent porn block shall ring a bell in the minds of many. And yes, that’s where I’m coming from. The recent block of some 837 odd websites under the pretext best known to the Centre, which gained the colour of child abuse, when the said order was questioned.
Though on one hand, it was an entirely autocratic act amounting to authoritarian censorship, if given a benefit of doubt, it was with the intent of protecting the interests of the children. So, though a noble intent, the act remains questionable.
Conclusively, though the recent gig might not have been a major jolt to S.69A, there is a need for some overhauling, in this regard, in order to truly imbibe in our ‘democracy’ the true spirit of democracy. Though a constitutional challenge to it is most likely in the future, the result may be dismal, owing to certain prejudices. But all one can do, is hope for the best.
1. “Section 66A:
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 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 three years and with fine.
Explanation.— For the purpose of this section, terms “electronic mail” and “electronic mail message” means a message or information created or transmitted or received on a computer, computer system, computer resource or communication device including attachments in text, images, audio, video and any other electronic record, which may be transmitted with the message.
Student BA.LLB – II,
ILS Law College, Pune