Given how difficult it is to regulate the internet, especially social media websites, governments weighing down on content on these websites in the face of threats to security and social harmony wouldn’t seem unwarranted. So, it is not surprising that the Indian government made the second-highest number of content restriction requests to Facebook—in fact, given India has the second-highest number of Facebook users, nearly 109 million, it wouldn’t seem out of scale.
What is making Indian net users uneasy is the fact that the Indian IT Act defines prosecutable violations very loosely, thus keeping the ambit of the law open to a wide spectrum of interpretation. Section 66 A of the IT Act provides for three years of imprisonment for posting or sharing content that causes “annoyance or inconvenience” to an aggrieved party. Similarly, the law also makes “grossly offensive” content or content that has a “menacing character” prosecutable. These elements introduce enormous scope for subjectivity and, as has been argued by many legal experts, could impinge on the freedom of expression. There is no denying that some kind of regulatory framework, especially in a country with such diversity in beliefs and leanings as India, is necessary to preserve harmony. At the same time, Section 66 A, in its current form, makes for a rather draconian regulatory tool, liable to cause more harm than good. It is, therefore, unfortunate that even though BJP leaders, including prime minister Narendra Modi, had opposed the provisions of the law that was passed by the UPA government, the NDA government chose to defend it in the Supreme Court last month.