There is a strong public perception that there is a significant amount of surveillance of public as well as private social media interactions, and communications between citizens in India and that these communications could get one into quite a bit of trouble. There have been instances, where people have shared news, made statements against certain political parties, entities or ideologies only to be arrested. Such instances have increased in recent years; all the more reason for us to know what to share or communicate via social media.
Zakir Ali Tyagi spent 42 days in jail. He jested about the Ganga being declared a living entity. He also spoke about BJP’s promise to build a temple in Ajodhya and the Haj subsidy. He was arrested and kept in jail for 42 days before he was released on bail. He has been charged with cheating, sedition and computer-related offences. Another person, Afghan Soni, too was arrested for sharing an allegedly ‘offensive’ video about the PM, where the PM’s question about ‘achchhe din’ is answered by a herd of goats.
S Thirumurugan a 19-year-old was arrested for abusing the PM in a private conversation on Facebook Messenger. The boy is a fan of Southern star Vijay. This happened during the Mersal controversy, where the BJP had protested against certain scenes in the film starring Vijay.
The draconian section 66A of the IT Act was struck down in 2015 because of the way it was worded; how it gave wide and arbitrary powers for the arrest of anyone deemed to have offended, insulted or hurt others. The widely held view was that the section was used less for fighting cyber crime and more as a weapon of intimidation and control of free speech. In this judgment, Justice R F Nariman referred to the section as unconstitutional and restrictive of people’s right to know.
While the provision of law is struck down, there have been instances of it still being misused. Even without 66A, several other provisions of the law can be invoked to make arrests: causing offence to religions, fomenting communal hatred, sharing other objectionable material and anything deemed to be seditious can land a person into trouble. Recently cyber sleuths arrested a techie in Chennai for posting child porn on a WhatsApp group. A CRPF jawan and journalist were also arrested in June last year for posting objectionable materials and comments.
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