Thursday, November 29, 2012

SC to examine IT Act, govt issues new guidelines

Noting that the country was "outraged" over the arrest of two girls in Maharashtra over Facebook comments, the Supreme Court today decided to examine the Information Technology Act to prevent recurrence of such incidents.

Hearing a PIL seeking amendments to the IT Act, a bench headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice J Chelameswar expressed surprise over how two girls were arrested in Palghar in Thane district after sunset.

One girl had criticised in a Facebook post the November 18 shutdown for Thackeray's funeral and the other had "liked" it.

While agreeing to hear the case, the bench said it was considering taking suo motu cognisance of recent incidents of arrest of people and wondered why nobody had so far challenged the particular provision of the IT Act.

"The way the little children were arrested, it outraged the sentiments of the people of the country. The way these things had been taking place needs consideration," the bench observed while asking Attorney General G E Vahanvati to assist it when it will take up the issue for hearing tomorrow.

The Bench also noted that the charge of disruption to communal harmony was there but later it was removed.

Govt's guidelines

Yielding to public protests on the recent controversial arrest of some persons for their Facebook posts, government today came out with guidelines under which a police officer no less than the rank of DCP can sanction prosecution.

In metropolitan cities, such an approval would have to be given by officers at the level of Inspector General of Police (IGP).

Only officers of these ranks will be allowed to permit registration of a case for offences under the Information Technology (IT) Act relating to spreading hatred through electronic messages in a bid to prevent the misuse of the legislation.

"... the concerned police officer or police station may not register any complaints (under Section 66 (A)) unless he has obtained prior approval at the level of an officer not below the DCP rank in urban and rural areas and IG level in metros," a top source said. Currently, a police station in-charge or an inspector can register a case under the said provision.

Guidelines in this regard are being issued against the backdrop of the arrest of two girls by police in Mumbai under Section 66 (A) of Information Technology (IT) Act that deals with spreading hatred through electronic messages.

The arrest of two teenage girls who had criticized the shutdown in Mumbai for Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray's funeral had triggered an outrage. The Maharashtra police has decided to drop the charges.

Yesterday, a 19-year-old boy was detained in Thane district on suspicion of posting an "objectionable" Facebook comment against MNS chief Raj Thackeray but later let off.

The source expressed confidence that such instances can be avoided once the new guidelines are put in place.

"There are procedural difficulties faced... we are going to circulate to all state governments as guidelines with regard to registering any complaints under Section 66 (A)," the source said.

The IT Act is not being amended, an official clarified, adding that powers vest only with Parliament and what the government intends to do is only to issue operational guidelines.

Section 66 (A), which is a bailable offence and provides for a jail term of up to three years, makes it an offence to send, by means of a computer resource or communication device, any information which is grossly offensive, menacing, causes annoyance or hatred.

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