Expressing displeasure over registration of FIRs on a scrapped provision of the Information Technology (IT) Act, the Supreme Court on Monday said that it is “shocking, distressing, terrible and amazing state of affairs” that Section 66A is still being used against citizens for offensive online posts.
The observation came when a bench led by Justice RF Nariman was told that over 1,000 cases have been filed under Section 66A, a struck-down provision that allowed police to arrest people for posting “offensive” content online.
In a landmark judgment in the Shreya Singhal case in 2015, the apex court had described Section 66A, now-defunct law, as “vague” and “unconstitutional”.
The SC had held that “Section 66A is struck down in its entirety being violative of Article 19(1)(a) (freedom of speech) and not saved under Article 19(2) (reasonable restrictions)”. Section 66A made
posting “offensive” comments online punishable by a jail term of three years.
Terming such FIRs “terrible”, the judges on Monday sought response from the Centre as to why it has not been able to curb this illegal practice. It said it will take some action on such “shocking state of affairs” and will hear the case after two weeks.
Pointing out that even the copies of the IT Act published after 2015 carry the provision with a small footnote over its quashing, Attorney General KK Venugopal informed the bench that even pre-2015 copies of the IT Act, which are available with police officers, contain the defunct provisions of law. He said the most police personnel actually did not read the footnote before filing an FIR. He also suggested that the words “struck down” should be included in a bracket with Section 66A to display the provision’s defunct status more prominently.
The petitioner NGO, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, had sought directions to the Centre to advise all police stations against registering FIRs under this law.