10 Developments

Cyber laws meet: Applying section 66A of IT Act to require top cops' approval - Top 10 developments

New Delhi Outrage over the use of section 66A of the Information Technology Act to arrest young citizens speaking their minds on social media platforms today pushed the government to put adequate checks and balances in place. The decision came as the Cyber Regulation Advisory Committee met in New Delhi.
Here are the latest developments:
  • It has been decided that the telecommunications department will issue guidelines to all states that any case under Section 66A can be filed only after a senior police officer's approval.
  • The step was welcomed by information technology activists attending the Cyber Regulation Advisory Committee meeting.
  • Section 66A treats sending information through a computer or communication device as having committed an offence if the material is "grossly offensive, has menacing character, is sent to cause annoyance, insult and enmity or for criminal intimidation".
  • Conviction for such an offence can attract a prison sentence of up to three years.
  • Experts feel section 66A is worded such that its interpretation borders on the vague, leaving the law open to misuse.
  • Examples of misuse abound. The most recent case is the arrest of two 21-year-old women in Palghar, Maharashtra, who questioned on Facebook if Mumbai should have indeed shut down for Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray's funeral.
  • As soon as a Shiv Sena leader in Palghar complained, the woman who put up the post, and her friend who merely 'liked' it on Facebook, were arrested. Sena activists vandalised a clinic run by the uncle of one of the women.
  • A national outrage prompted an inquiry and forced the suspension of two police officers, Ravindra Sengaonkar and Shreekant Pingle.
  • In May this year, two Air India cabin crew members, Mayank Mohan Sharma and KVJ Rao, were arrested by the cyber-crime cell of the Mumbai police for Facebook posts alleged to be offensive to politicians. Like the Palghar case, they too were charged under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act.
  • In April, Kolkata professor Ambikesh Mahapatra was arrested for forwarding a cartoon of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Story First Published: November 29, 2012 09:58 IST

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