SC grants a week to Centre to clear stand on Section 66A and 74 of IT Act; warns stay of Operations of Provisions

SC grants a week to Centre to clear stand on Section 66A and 74 of IT Act; warns stay of Operations of Provisions

A Supreme Court bench comprising of Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice S.A. Bobde warned the centre on Tuesday to clarify its stand over certain provisions of the Information technology Act which are often called up by authorities to gag free speech on social media.

Refusing to grant two weeks for filing the affidavit as requested by Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh, the Bench observed, "Heavens are not going to fall if the provisions are stayed... because this country has been in existence for the past 60 years without these provisions.”

The order of the Bench came after the petitioner’s counsel Manali Singhal brought to the Court’s notice, the delay that had been caused in the petition, which had been filed way back in April, 2012.

The Court was hearing a petition filed by Shreya Singhal, which demands that Section 66A and 74 of the IT Act is declared unconstitutional. She had contended that the sections were vague and broadly worded, leading to restrain of Freedom and Speech and Expression guaranteed under Article 19(1) of the Constitution of India.

The petitioner had brought forth the plea, petitioning against the arrests of two girls in Mumbai in November 2012 for a Facebook post against the shutdown of the metropolis during Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray’s funeral procession.

In January last year, an Advisory on the implementation of Section 66A of the IT Act had been issued by the Centre to Chief Secretaries and DGPs of all States and Union Territories. The Advisory acknowledged that, “cyberspace  also  has  the potential  to  the  misused  for  variety  of  purposes  such  as spreading  hate  mails,   posting   inflammatory,   harmful   and offensive information in the form of images, videos,  photos  and text”.

It then went on to add, “Due diligence and care may be exercised while dealing with cases arising out of the alleged misuse of cyberspace…. State Governments are advised that as regard  to  arrest  of any person in complaint  registered  under  section  66A  of  the Information Technology Act 2000, the concerned police officer of a police station under the State's jurisdiction  may  not  arrest any person until he/she  has  obtained  prior  approval  of  such arrest, from an officer, not below  the  rank  of  the  Inspector General of Police in the metropolitan cities  or  of  an  officer not  below  the  rank  of  Deputy  Commissioner  of   Police   or Superintendent of Police at the district level, as the  case  may be.” Read the entire text of the advisory, here.

While Section 66A provides for maximum three-year imprisonment for sending 'offensive' or 'annoying' messages through a computer or communication device, Section 74 provides for two-year jail term for intermediaries hosting such content.

Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen has also petitioned before the Supreme Court, seeking a quashing of a case registered against her in Bareli district of Uttar Pradesh for posting certain 'objectionable comments' in a tweet in 2012. She had criticized AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal for meeting Maulana Tauqeer Raza Khan. Khan had issued a fatwa against Nasreen in 2007.

The matter will now be heard on December 9.