[Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000 has been widely discussed and debated owing to a spate of recent events. The provision is clearly problematic, and is currently being challenged in two High Courts and the Supreme Court. In order to provide context to the ongoing commentary on the issue, I have listed below a series of events concerning Section 66A. I apologize for the descriptive nature of this post, but hope that this information can inspire more enlightened conversations about the many problems with the IT Act and manner in which the state seeks to control online speech. If readers find any discrepancies in the details or dates, please feel free to leave a comment. The details listed below are not exhaustive, and are merely illustrative instances which have brought the Section into public scrutiny.]
September 10, 2012 – Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi is arrested on sedition charges along with 66A, for allegedly posting objectionable content on his website. The arrest has been made pursuant to a private complaint by a lawyer.
October 31, 2012 – An industrialist in Puducherry is arrested under Section 66A for comments on twitter against the son of Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram.
November 9, 2012 – The Constitutional validity of the Section 66A is challenged before the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court.
November 19, 2012 – Two girls are arrested in Palghar, Maharastra for questioning the shut down of the city after the death of Bal Thackeray under Section 66A of the IT Act and Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code.
November 20, 2012 – The Chairman of the Press Council of India, writes to the Maharashtra Chief Minister questioning the legal validity of the arrest of the two girls under Section 66A. The letter(s) may be accessed here.
November 21, 2012 – The division bench of the Madras High Court issues notice to the State in the pending PIL concerning Section 66A.
November 21, 2012 – A division bench of the Lucknow High Court accepts a PIL questioning the constitutional validity of Section 66A.
November 23, 2012 – Two Air India employees have been detained under Section 66A for offensive content posted on a Facebook group against certain Congress leaders.
November 29, 2012 – A Supreme Court bench consisting of the Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir and Justice Jasti Chelameswar accept a PIL questioning the validity of Section 66A.
November 29, 2012 – Union Telecom and IT Minister Kapil Sibal issued guidelines for the better enforcement of Section 66A. Under these new guidelines cases under Section 66(A) can only be registered if prior approval has been sought by DCP rank officers in urban areas and IG rank officials in rural areas.
November 30, 2012 – The cyber hacktivist group Anonymous hacks Union Ministers Kapil Sibal’s website in protest over the misuse of Section 66A.
November 30, 2012 – The Supreme Court seeks the opinion of the Attorney General regarding the status of Section 66A. Mr. Vahanvati reiterates the need for retaining the provision, while indicating that the government intention to enforce the relevant guidelines, for more tailored implementation. The court issues notices to the Centre, Maharashtra, Puducherry, Delhi, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
December 8, 2012 – A 20 year old man was arrested in Rourkela for uploading communally sensitive pictures on his Facebook account. Officials claim that the picture contained a Hindu god atop a Mosque, was allegedly uploaded on the anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition.
December 14, 2012 – The cyber hacktivist group Anonymous defaces the BSNL website in protest over the misuse of Section 66A. They have uploaded images of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, drawing attention to his imprisonment earlier this year.
December 14, 2012 – The Issue of the misuse of Section 66A by state governments was raised in Rajya Sabha, with members urging a reconsideration of the provision. Some members of Parliament also directly questioned the constitution validity of Section 66A and demanded its suitable amendment. In response to these concerns the Union Minister for Telecom and IT has suggested advisory guidelines for the implementation of Section 66A to circumvent misuse by state governments.
December 15, 2012 – Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi ends his 8 day fast against Section 66A in Delhi.
December 18, 2012 – The Maharashtra Police drop all charges against the women who were arrested in Palghar after their Facebook comments. A closure report has also been filed before the magistrate.