Expressing anguish at the misuse of power by law enforcing agencies, who used the Information Technology (IT) Act to arrest two girls after they posted comments on their Facebook account about the Mumbai shutdown when the Shiv Sena chief was being cremated, the Supreme Court asked why the “shocking” incident was not brought to its notice.
On Thursday, a bench headed by chief justice Altamas Kabir was hearing a delayed writ petition filed by Delhi law student Sherya Singhal seeking framing of guidelines for applying the objectionable 66A of the IT Act. The SC summoned attorney general Goolam E Vahanvati on Friday to explain the government’s stand on this provision.
“The way things have taken place, it needs some consideration so that it does not happen again,’’ observed Kabir, while taking note of Singhal’s lawsuit that has termed section 66A “unconstitutional”.
The SC castigated the Mumbai police for misusing the provision by exercising their power indiscriminately against two innocent users of a social networking site.
Singhal voiced the concern and fear among millions of netizens who have been picked up by the police for making innocuous comments concerning the happenings in the country and abroad. She also referred to the arrests of Palghar resident Shaheen Dadha, who commented on the shutdown in the state on November 18 when Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray was being cremated, and her friend Rini Sreenivasan who “liked” it.
The petition referred to four other instances of misuse of section 66A of the Act and sought the SC’s ruling on whether the effect created by the frivolous invocations of criminal law, especially in cases involving free speech, deserves to be negated by a judicial safety valve such as an order from a magistrate as a prerequisite to initiation of investigation or arrest.
Meanwhile, the government on Thursday issued guidelines that state approval from an officer of DCP-level in rural areas and IG-level in metros will have to be sought before registering complaints under section 66A of the IT Act.