Modi govt may bring back Section 66A in a different avatar

Guess who has been inconvenienced the most with the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Section 66A of the IT Act? It doesn't take a genuis to figure that the political class figures prominently in that list. Life must have lost it's sheen as the privilege to throw people in jail for Facebook posts was taken away and some of them are plotting the comeback of the dreaded law. Only in another avatar.

The Economic Times reported, “Three weeks after the Supreme Court quashed Section 66A of the IT Act, the home ministry has begun an exercise to bring back what officials say would be a "clear and better" provision that would help the government deal with social media posts aimed at inciting terror or any offence.”

 Modi govt may bring back Section 66A in a different avatar

Image used for representational purposes only. AFP.

The report states that the Centre started work on the new legislation after intelligence agencies complained that the scrapping of the Sec 66A left them with no law to deal with posts on social media that may lead to breach of security or could incite people to commit offences.

DNA reports: “The committee, headed by Special Secretary (Internal Security) in the Home Ministry Ashok Prasad, will analyse the 'void'a created by scrapping of Section 66A of IT Act in the legal space to deal with national security issues and what steps could be taken to accommodate all these concerns, official sources said.”

According to the same report, representatives of the Intelligence Bureau, NIA and Delhi Police will be part of the committee that may come up with an amendment to the existing act.

The Times of India has listed out the issues that the amendment aims to deal with. A report on the paper says, “Among the offences sought to be addressed by the new provision in the law are online support to a banned terrorist outfit; incitement to commission of an offence, particularly communal posts; electronic messages affecting relations with friendly countries; and, possibly, online activity in violation of morality and decency. However, to ensure that individual freedom of expression is not curbed, the proposed law will exclude ambiguous expressions such as 'offensive language' or 'causing annoyance' that left Section 66A prone to subjective interpretation.”

The intended amendment will make it necessary for only a senior officer to register a FIR in such a case under ‘defined’ circumstances.

However, though the amendment seeks to address the ambiguity of language that made Sec 66A dangerous, if it really ventures into addressing issues of ‘morality’ and ‘decency’, it will perhaps end up being misused by political thugs in the same way as the 'old' Section 66A. A spate of incidents in recent times – which include the uproar over the AIB roast in Mumbai, harassing writer Perumal Murugan in Tamil Nadu for ‘hurting’ religious sentiments to asking for strict censoring of films – convince us that the amendment like that will undo whatever progress was made by the scrapping of Section 66A.

Issues of ‘decency’ and ‘morality’ in a multilingual, plural society riddled with conflicts over ethnic primacy, are tricky to define. If the amendment fails to come up with a satisfactory definition of what qualifies as a violation, it will be only used by fundamentalists -- as we have seen in the past -- to harass citizens.

It has taken several disruptive incidents and a long legal battle to have the Section 66A struck down. One can only hope that the government doesn’t thrust it back on us again, only with a different name.

Updated Date: Apr 14, 2015 13:51:11 IST