Picture Credit: indiatoday.in
INTRODUCTION The freedom of speech and expression occupies a prominent position in the hierarchy of liberty. It also promotes most other rights and allows them to flourish. The significance of the freedom of speech and expression has been reiterated by the Supreme Court of India in numerous judgments. One of the most recent ones is the celebrated judgment in the case of Shreya Singhal v Union Of India, wherein the section 66A of Information Technology Act, 2000 was declared unconstitutional by the apex court in 2015. It’s been more than 4 years since this section was declared unconstitutional, but the police in various states are still filing FIRs under this illegal provision. Apparently, it is still being used to haunt people.
WHAT IS 66A?
The Information Technology Act, 2000 was notified on October 17, 2000 following the Model
Law on E-commerce adopted by United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) in 1997.The main objective of this act is to carry out trustworthy and legal electronic, digital and online transactions and alleviate or reduce cyber crimes. The original Act did not contain section 66A and it was introduced by an amendment in 2009. Under this provision, any person who by means of a computer or communication device sends any information that is: 
1. grossly offensive;
2. false and meant for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will;
3. Meant to deceive or mislead the recipient about the origin of such messages, etc, shall be punishable with imprisonment up to three years and with fine.
The purpose behind the introduction of this section was to prohibit the misuse of information technology through social media and other mediums but it ended up excessively invading the right of free speech and expression.
66A WAS DECLARED UNCONSTITUTIONAL
After Shreya Singhal filed a PIL seeking amendment in the section 66A of Information
Technology Act, 2000 in 2019, it raised an avalanche nationwide after two girls were arrested for showing discontent towards the shutdown of Mumbai after the death of Bal Thakrey on social media. The Supreme Court found it to be violative of the right to freedom of expression under Article 19 (1) (a) and right to life under Article 21 of the constitution.The Supreme Court observed:
“Expressions such as “grossly offensive” or “menacing” are so vague that there is no manageable standard by which a person can be said to have committed an offence or not to have committed an offence.” (Para82ofthejudgment).
SECTION 66A - LEGAL ZOMBIE
The judgment came as relieving. It conveyed that Section 66A would not be able to used in future and even pending cases would be closed. But it is being flouted from police stations to trial courts. It still exists as a ‘Legal Zombie’. As per a pragmatic study by Internet Freedom Foundation, it was shown that fresh 66A cases are still being registered.
In March 2017, one Zakir Ali Tyagi was charged under section 66A for his social media commentary, which the Uttar Pradesh Police considered criminal. He had to spend 42 days in Muzaffarnagar Jail. Four years down the line since the judgment, in March 2019, a West Bengal BJP youth wing worker Priyanka Sharma was arrested under the same section.
The list of victims of the unconstitutional provision is unending. In February 2019, the Supreme Court acknowledged the continued use of section 66A and ordered distribution of judgment in the Shreya Singhal case to District Court and to the Police departments through DGPs. But, it continued unabated even after this direction.
There is general lack of effective mechanism to implement decisions of the Supreme Court in letter and in spirit. It is the failure of the executive, legislature and judiciary. It is a matter of serious concern. There is a need to move from a system where communication about judicial decisions is at mercy.
CONCLUSION The thriving non implementation and disobedience of Supreme Court judgments is terrible. The continuous misuse of 66A demands immediate action. It is still possessing threat to the freedom of speech and expression in the country after being declared unconstitutional by the Apex court in 2015. In a democracy, freedom of speech and expression is believed to be the right which reinforces all other human rights, allowing society to progress and develop. As Justice Nariman has highlighted, the liberty of thought and expression is not merely an aspirational ideal. It is also;
“A cardinal value that is of paramount significance under our constitutional scheme.”
 (2015) 5 SCC 1.
1. Apoorva, ‘A Background to Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000’ (PRS Legislative Research, 24 March 2015)
2. Cyber Law India, section 66A, http://cyberlawindia.com/section-66a/
3. An unending saga of misuse and harassment, https://lawschoolpolicyreview.com/2019/06/04/section-66a-an-unending-saga-of-misuseand-harassment/#_ftnref1
Author- Pratibha, student of BALLB, 2nd year in Panjab University
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