Facebook post row: SC to examine IT Act, govt issues new guidelines
New Delhi: On a day when the Supreme Court voiced its concern over recent incidents of people being arrested for posting alleged offensive messages on websites, the government on Thursday decided to modify rules under the controversial section 66A.
The government’s decision comes hours after the apex court accepted a PIL seeking amendment to the Information Technology Act in the wake of its alleged misuse in recent few cases.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir said that it was considering to take suo motu cognisance of recent incidents and wondered why nobody had so far challenged the particular provision of the IT Act.
Taking the case on urgent basis, the bench heard the PIL filed by a Delhi student Shreya Singhal today itself.
Shreya has contended in her plea that "the phraseology of Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000 is so wide and vague and incapable of being judged on objective standards, that it is susceptible to wanton abuse and hence falls foul of Article 14, 19 (1)(a) and Article 21 of the Constitution."
She has submitted that "unless there is judicial sanction as a prerequisite to the setting into motion the criminal law with respect to freedom of speech and expression, the law as it stands is highly susceptible to abuse and for muzzling free speech in the country."
The arrests which have been referred to by Shreya in her petition include that of a 21-year-old girl for questioning on Facebook the shutdown in Mumbai after Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray's death, which was 'liked' and shared by her friend, who was also arrested.
Shreya has also referred to an April 2012 incident, when
a professor of chemistry from Jadavpur University in West Bengal, Ambikesh Mahapatra, was arrested for posting a cartoon concerning a political figure on social networking sites.
She has also referred to the arrest of businessman Ravi Srinivasan in October 2012 by the Puducherry Police for having made a allegation on twitter against a politician from Tamil Nadu as well as the May 2012 arrests of two Air India employees, V Jaganatharao and Mayank Sharma, by the Mumbai Police under the IT Act for posting content of Facebook and Orkut against a trade union leader and some politicians.
Shreya in her plea has also sought issue of guidelines, by the apex court, to "reconcile section 41 and 156 (1) of the Criminal Procedure Code with Article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution" and that offences under the Indian penal Code and any other legislation if they involve the freedom of speech and expression be treated as a non-cognizable offence for the purposes of Section 41 and Section 156 (1).
Section 41 of the CrPC empowers the police to arrest any person without an order from the magistrate and without a warrant in the event that the offence involved is a cognizable offence. Section 156 (1) empowers the investigation by the police into a cognizable offence without an order of a magistrate.
Meanwhile, as per reports, the government has itself modified rules under Section 66(A).
The government has issued an advisory to states on the procedure to be followed while implementing the Act. The new rules mandate a prior approval from the Deputy Commissioner of Inspector General of Police level before the Station House Officer (SHO) can register complaints under the section.
The government has taken the step in wake of growing incidents of alleged miscue of the Act. Two recent cases in Palghar near Mumbai highlighted the urgent need to relook at the Act.