The need to amend Section 66A arose as it was felt that not only it is harsh, it is also vague in defining crime. For instance, it provides for imprisonment for sending information which is ‘menacing in character’, used to cause ‘inconvenience’, ‘hatred’ and ‘annoyance’.
The 20-member panel headed by communications and IT minister Kapil Sibal will discuss recent cases like those of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee getting a professor arrested for ‘maligning’ her over a cartoon, Karti Chidambaram’s complaint that an industrialist posted ‘offensive’ posts against him on Twitter and the latest case of two girls being arrested for Facebook comments on Bal Thackeray’s demise.
Section 66A of the amended Act provides for imprisonment of up to three years and fine for sending spam or unsolicited emails. “The meeting is taking place now because cyber rules were made earlier but no one understood their implications then. With an increase in the number of such cases, amending the section has become important,” said an official who will participate in the meeting.
The Section has faced the cyber experts’ ire, who say it is misused and misinterpreted because it defines offences which are open to any interpretation.
“The section questions the fundamental right of speech and expression. The problem is first in the law and then its interpretation. It began with noble intentions but it can be used and stretched to any level considering the way it has been drafted. The IT Act is a technology legislation which needs to be amended constantly,” said Pavan Duggal, advocate, Supreme Court.
Sibal had earlier said that there had been abuse of the Section, but there is a need to law enforcement agencies sensitive and “it is not the intent of this law that any innocuous statement is liable to be acted upon ...arbitrary arrests can’t be made”.
Analysts estimate that eight out of 10 cases of violation of the Section are of legitimate speech or people voicing legitimate opinions which is not illegal.
“The law is misused because there is a difference between the intent of the person drafting and finally implementing it,” added an official of an industry association of Internet service providers.
Another official who did not wish to be named, said: “Though the ministry says there is nothing wrong with the Section, the fact is that it gives discretion to determine what is harmful and annoyance. However, till that time, the person goes through irreparable agony and mental trauma.”