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Boy, can you beat these?

One, a man gets arrested for displaying cartoons on his Facebook page that mocks corruption in high places. Two, two young girls get arrested for wondering aloud on their FB page why Mumbai should be closed on Thackeray’s funeral. Three, a professor was arrested for circulating a cartoon that lampoons Mamata Banerjee. Four, two Air India employees go behind the bars for sharing jokes about Dr. Manmohan Singh. Five, a worker is jailed for posting comments about Narendra Modi. And most recently a class XI student was jailed for commenting about Azam Khan, a minister in UP.

All these have been courtesy Section 66A of the Information Technology Act. It’s a throwback to Orwell’s book, Animal Farm, 1984 that talked about the Big Brother and an indication of how thin-skinned we have all become. The section gave the police powers to arrest those who post objectionable content online and provides for a three year jail term.

And now the Supreme Court of India has struck down the section as being unconstitutional thumbing down the government’s argument that it would use the section judiciously. This is what happens when you have a history of injudicious use of an enabling section. The Court has curtly ruled that the right to freedom of speech and expression enshrined under the Constitution is inviolable. The Court expressed that language of the section was vague as it did not properly define words like offensive and persistent.

Ruling that there is a difference between discussion, advocacy and incitement, it said that discussion and advocacy, howsoever annoying, have to be allowed.

What Section 66A says:

"Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device

(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or

(b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device,

(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine."

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