Implementation of Shreya Singhal Day #2: Order Pronounced with Four DirectionsImplementation of S.66A IT Act
On October 12th 2022, the Supreme Court issued four directions for the implementation of Shreya Singhal v Union of India (2015) which struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. S66A prescribed the punishment for sharing ‘grossly offensive’ or ‘menacing’ information online. Chief Justice U.U. Lalit and Justices Ravindra Bhat and Ajay Rastogi pronounced the Order.
The Court directed Home Secretaries and senior police authorities to ensure that the police would not make arrests under the provision. All charges and cases under S66A will be deleted. Further, all publications where S66A is discussed should indicate that the provision was struck down.
S66A gave the government wide powers to make arrests to protect against ‘information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character’ shared online. The provision was heavily criticised for endangering civil and political liberties.
In March 2015, the Supreme Court declared that S66A was ‘unconstitutionally vague’ in Shreya Singhal v Union of India. The Court said that S66A did not clearly lay down the limits on the government’s power to wield the provision. Further, the provision did not qualify as a reasonable restriction that can be imposed on the freedom of speech and expression. It declared the provision to be ‘void ab initio’, meaning it should be treated as though it never existed.
Shreya Singhal stated that all pending cases under the provision would be dismissed. In 2018, a working paper disclosed that S66A continued to exist as a ‘legal zombie’– new FIRs were still being filed under the provision after it was struck down.
In 2019, the NGO People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) approached the Supreme Court, seeking directions for the implementation of the Judgment. The Court directed that copies of the Judgment should be made available to the Chief Secretaries of all states, who in turn would educate the police about the development. However, citizens continued to be arrested for their ‘offensive’ speech online.
PUCL sought further directions from the Court to ensure that S66A is not used to make unconstitutional arrests.
In Focus Today
- What will happen to pending S. 66A cases?
- Who must take the responsibility to ensure that S. 66A is no longer used?
Four Directions to End The Use of Section 66A
In today’s hearing, the Union Government’s counsel, Mr. Zoheb Hussain submitted a report showing the State government’s lack of compliance with the SC’s decision in Shreya Singhal. The report showed that in most States, complaints under S66A had been withdrawn. However, there was no indication that the use of S66A had ceased completely.
To ensure that the use of the provision is completely stopped, the Bench issued four directions.
- No citizen can be prosecuted for an alleged violation of 66A.
- All cases in which citizens are facing prosecution under S66A will be deleted. If a person is charged with multiple offences including S66A, only the charges under this provision will be deleted.
- The Court directed Home Secretaries, Director Generals of Police and other relevant State authorities to ensure that the police no longer use S66A.
- In all government, semi-government or private publications on the IT Act and S.66A, readers must be ‘adequately informed’ that the provision has been struck down.