Trolls, beware. Section 66A of the Information Technology Act may be gone, but there are still laws that can catch you if you are careless and irresponsible.
The scrapping of section 66A has given netizens freedom to express their views without fear of being arrested. “However, these views must be exercised with a certain element of caution,” said Ranbir Singh, vice chancellor of the National Law University, Delhi. “The content of the views [posted online] should not lead to incitement of an offence.”
If your comment on social media can be interpreted as one that would incite violence, you can be arrested and charged with sections 153A (promoting enmity between people on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence or language), 153B (imputations and assertions prejudicial to national integration), 295A (insulting religion or religious beliefs) and 505 (causing public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code. “It is not going to be a free-for-all,” said Supreme Court lawyer Lalit Bhasin. “People can still be hauled up under provisions of the IT Act and the Indian Penal Code.”
Interestingly, in most cases involving netizens in recent times, the police had also slapped these sections. That means most of the cases will go on. For instance, popular singer Chinmayi Sripada can still pursue her case against an associate professor at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in Chennai and two others, who tagged her in an abusive tweet. The accused can still face the music under IPC and section 4(1) of the Tamil Nadu Women Harassment (Prevention) Act.
Also, by upholding section 69 of the IT Act, the Supreme Court has allowed the government the power to block content online. The section, noted the court, has sufficient safeguards against abuse. Section 79 of the IT Act, which pertains to getting intermediaries to take down online content, also stays. But it will now be subject to the test of clear and present danger and public discord, as laid down by Article 19(2).
All the same, cyberspace is celebrating. There has been an exponential increase in the number of jokes about Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan and his buffaloes. Clearly, the more you try to suppress something, the more it flares up.
WITH LAKSHMI SUBRAMANIAN