Supreme Court accepts student's petition challenging Section 66(A)

Supreme Court accepts student's petition challenging Section 66(A)
New Delhi A young law student from Delhi has gone to the Supreme Court to challenge a controversial law that was used to arrest two women recently in Maharashtra for their posts on Facebook.

Shreya Singhal from Delhi has filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) that describes Section 66(A) of the IT Act as unconstitutional. "I feel it is a violation of free speech, it hasn't been updated, and people are using it wrongly," Ms Singhal told NDTV.

Section 66A of the  IT Act, framed in 2008,  provides for upto three years in jail as punishment for sending "offensive" or "annoying" messages through a computer or communication device. Critics say that the law needs to be reworded more precisely, so that potential violations are clearly explained.

The Chief Justice of India, Altamas Kabir, said Ms Singhal's case will be heard urgently this afternoon at 2 pm. He said in court, "We were wondering why no one has approached the Supreme Court (over this) and even thought of taking up the issue suo moto."

After Shiv Sena president Bal Thackeray died earlier this month, a woman named Shaheen Dhada posted a message on Facebook criticising the shutdown in Mumbai for Mr Thackeray's cremation. Her friend, Rinu Srinivasan, liked her Facebook post. Both were arrested, provoking national outrage.

(Read: Why a Delhi student has challenged the law used for Facebook arrests)

The policemen who arrested them have been suspended. The charges against them were dropped today.

Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal met with civil society activists and stakeholders for internet freedom today, and said that states have been informed that to prevent the misuse of Section 66(A), a senior police officer (of Inspector General rank) will have to sanction the registration of any cases under this law.  However, the government at this point is reportedly not looking  at clearly defining what sort of content would qualify as "annoying" or "offensive" messages. Activists have been concerned that the definition of what constitutes as 'offensive' is unclear but sources said the government feels the new guideline to states will also tackle the problem of misuse. Sibal has promised to meet all stakeholders every quarter to take stock of the groumd situation.

Story First Published: November 29, 2012 11:16 IST

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