No more Section 66A Cases? We are building a "Zombie Tracker" with Civic Data Labs! #AgamiChallenge

Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of India in March, 2015. This section was vague and lead to arbitrary arrests of young college students, a cartoonist and many other social media users. Hence, the judgement came as a huge relief. It meant that the unconstitutional Section 66A would not be able to used in future and even pending cases would be closed. But, this did not happen to our horror. The problem is the implementation I

09 September, 2019
3 min read

Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of India in March, 2015. This section was vague and lead to arbitrary arrests of young college students, a cartoonist and many other social media users. Hence, the judgement came as a huge relief. It meant that the unconstitutional Section 66A would not be able to used in future and even pending cases would be closed. But, this did not happen to our horror.

The problem is the implementation

In a research paper lead by Abhinav Sekhri and co-authored by IFF's executive director, Apar Gupta, it was demonstrated that Section 66A was being still used for legal prosecutions all over India (read more). This is unconsititutional and has clear harm to individuals who are accussed under it, the Supreme Court whose judgement is being flouted; even the creaky, overburdened criminal justice machinery from police stations to trial courts. To the authors this is a signal failure in which the judgements of the Supreme Court are not being implemented on the ground for ignorance and the absence of proper incentives. The question is, how can we fix this?

Earlier this year we collaborated with PUCL (follow PUCL on twitter), India's prominent human rights advocacy organisation that was also a petitioner in the Supreme Court in the Section 66A Case (read more). That resulted in a positive direction in which a copy of the judgement was directed to be sent to every district court and police station. This may not seem like it (after all, ignorance of law is not an excuse!), but was a radical step. As per many RTIs we have filed over the past few months, this judgement has indeed been dispatched to district courts all over India.

But the question, and the suspicion remains. Are Section 66A cases still being prosecuted? Are fresh ones still being filed? The answer to this is yes, and yes, as is demonstrable through the recent prosecutions of Priyanka Sharma in West Bengal and Prashant Kanojia in Uttar Pradesh (read more here).

We will not give up? #ChallengeAccepted

To completely fix this we have come up with a tech-dev solution in partnership with CivicData Labs (check them out here). It will primarily query any fresh Section 66A cases on a monthly basis providing not only research insight but the basis for future advocacy actions to completely eradicate it from police stations and court rooms in India. We have called this the "Zombie Tracker" and submitted it for the Agami Challenge.

We will be working in collaboration with CivicDataLabs to query, analyse and publish (we are at the same time considering concerns around the right to privacy and those of the accused) large data sets and have also been able to build a rough prototype at present. They have allready built a prototype of a digital dashboard from court data in Maharashta. But at present this is just like a concept car displayed at trade shows. It needs to be properly tested, amended and deployed for maximum impact.

The components of the proposal for the Zombie Tracker (click here) – all details including the work flow, the various technical aspects, a detailed budget with costs but also challenges and mitigation strategies – have been fully and transparently disclosed and made publicly available. We invite further feedback on it! Our larger hope is to build an innovative model in which a tech tool, components of storytelling and advocacy all three work together as a strategy toolkit for the enforcement of constitutional judgements. To us this would be one of the best use cases of opening up judicial data to the public!

A great pool of applicants!

Please also check out some stellar applications in the applicant pool -- by Azim Premji University (crime victimisation surveys); IGIDR Finance Research Group (company level litigation); Oorvani Foundation (Urban Governance); National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (Contract Enforcement); HAQ: Centre for Child Rights (Child Protection Law Implementation Tracker); Veratech Intelligence Private Limited (MCA Dataset); Manas Sharma, Gurman Bhatia, Prawesh Lama (dowry bazaar); Preeti Pratishruti Dash (rape cases to provide insight into judicial adjudication). You may also want to check out the entire gallery which also includes details of the data hubs which will host this data (click to view).

  1. IFF's submission of the Zombie Tracker to the Agami Challenge for review and comments (link)

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