New Delhi: The Supreme Court Friday issued notice to the central government and four states on a petition challenging the constitutional validity of legal provisions for trying those who post annoying or inconvenient comments on Facebook, Twitter or other social networking sites.
A bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice J.Chelameswar issued the notice – also to Maharashtra, West Bengal, Puducherry and Delhi – during the hearing of a public interest litigation plea field by Shreya Singhal.
Earlier, Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati told the court that Section 66A of the Information Technology Act has been grossly abused. Vahanvati welcomed the court’s intervention.
However, he said that per se there was nothing wrong with the section 66A and defended it. He told the court to “examine Section 66A of the IT Act and I will assist the court.”
Vahanvati told the court about the guidelines issued by the telecommunication ministry which provide for prior nod of the director general of police and inspector general of police in rural area and metros for trying a person under Section 66A.
While directing the Maharashtra government to explain the circumstances under which two girls – Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan – were arrested for posting comments critical of Mumbai bandh in the wake of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray’s death, the court asked the state government to tell it what steps it has taken.
The bench asked the Maharashtra government to file its response within four weeks.
As Vahanvati urged the court to examine Section 66A, senior counsel Mukul Rohtagi told the court to direct that no action would be taken across the country under the impugned provision.
Rohtagi, who appeared for petitioner Shreya Singhal, told the court that since law and order was a state subject, without the apex court’s direction police action under Section 66A may not stop.
Singhal has moved the Supreme Court seeking the striking down of Section 66A which was resorted to by authorities to arrest two young girls: Dhanda, 21, who had questioned the Mumbai shutdown after Thackeray’s death Nov 17, and her friend, Srinivasan who had ‘liked’ the comment on Facebook.
Singhal claimed that the section was vague and impossible to judge by objective standards, and thus liable to misuse.
Section 66A reads: “Any person who sends by any means of a computer resource any information that is grossly offensive or has a menacing character; or any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.”
Singhal’s PIL said that the “phraseology of the aforesaid Section is so wide and vague and incapable of being judged on objective standards, that it is susceptible to wanton abuse.”
“…this provision is indeed capable of wanton abuse in view of the subjective discretion of the police and the susceptibility of it being invoked cavalierly. In fact, the… recent events fortify the apprehensions of the petitioner…”.