New IT Act rules to make arrests harder

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The Centre, acting after widespread nationwide outrage over misuse of the Information Technology Act, said on Thursday it would issue new guidelines by which only a police officer not below the rank of deputy commissioner of police could permit registration of a case under its controversial Section 66(A).

This provision allows cases to be registered against those who simply cause 'annoyance' to others by their Internet activities.

This was decided at a meeting of the cyber regulation advisory committee chaired by Union minister Kapil Sibal, who holds charge of information technology.

No police officer will be able to register a case under Section 66(A) without the approval of a deputy commissioner of police-rank officer in urban and rural areas, and an Inspector General of Police-rank officer in metros.

The Supreme Court also stepped in on Thursday and said it would hear a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) by Delhi law student Shreya Singhal to amend or scrap the controversial Section.

Chief Justice Altamas Kabir said: “The way little children were arrested has outraged the sentiments of the country.”

The Bench said it was considering taking suo motu notice of these recent incidents and wondered why nobody had so far challenged this particular provision.

The Bench sought the opinion of Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati on this, and decided to hear the matter on Friday.

Centre to issue IT Act guide

A meeting of the cyber regulation advisory committee chaired by Union minister Kapil Sibal, attended by representatives of government, intermediaries, industry associations as well as members of civil society agreed that a clarification in the form of guidelines be issued by the Centre to States and Union Territories to clarify the intent and enable uniform implementation across the country.

As per the guideline to be issued a police officer will 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. At present a police station in-charge or an inspector can register a case under section 66 (A) of IT act.

The Section 66 (A) provides for a jail term of up to three years and 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.

There has been a lot of protest against this section from civil society after two teenage girls who had objected to a bandh-like situation in Mumbai after Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray's death and were arrested under it.

In her plea before the Supreme court, Shreya also has criticised section 66(A) of the IT Act, saying its phraseology is "so wide and vague and incapable of being judged on objective standards".

The plea has said that the section is "susceptible to wanton abuse and hence falls foul of Article 14, 19 (1)(a) and Article 21 of the Constitution... 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."

She 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.

The plea has also sought issuance 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 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.

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