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Explain arrest of Palghar girls over Facebook post, SC tells Maharashtra govt

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Nov 30, 2012 at 04:11pm IST

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has issued notices to the Centre, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Delhi and Puducherry governments over the petition filed by a Delhi University student, Shreya Singhal, challenging the Information Technology Act. The court has asked Maharashtra to explain arrest of the two Palghar girls over Facebook comments on late Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray.

The Attorney General, in his response to the petition, told the apex court that the arrest of the girls was unjustified. The Attorney General said the arrests were wrong, but Section 66(A) of the IT Act need not be scrapped.

ALSO SEE Govt acts as battle over Sec 66(A) of IT Act reaches SC after fresh FB post row

Reacting to the court's action, the petitioner, Shreya Singhal, said, "I am happy with the SC response. Freedom of speech is utmost important and that should be protected."

Meanwhile, politicians and cyber experts say the section should be re-written. BJD leader Jay Panda will move a private members' bill seeking changes in the IT law.

ALSO SEE Government modifies Sec 66(A) of IT Act

Even as the debate over Section 66(A) continues, Mumbai's Joint Police Commissioner, Himanshu Roy admitted that police officers need more training and sensitisation while dealing with cyber crimes. Speaking to IBN18 Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai, Himanshu Roy said, "Cyber crime is a special type of crime, it needs specialised investigation skills which are not available with all police stations, which are more attuned to dealing with garden variety property and body offences. We need more training and more sensitisation there."

Earlier on Thursday, the government circulated new guidelines on how to enforce the controversial section following the Facebook arrests row. It says prior approval from the Deputy Commissioner or an IGP-level officer is needed before Station House officers can register such complaints.

Sources say the government is acting on civil society fears that the Maharashtra incident is not justified and that Section 66(A) of the IT Act is unconstitutional and open to misinterpretation. "I personally welcome this amendment completely. It's a good amendment," Himanshu Roy said.

Following the recent developments, youngsters are now being careful of what they post online. The fear has turned even worse after a youth in Palghar was on Wednesday detained for allegedly posting defamatory comments about Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray. The youth has, however, claimed that his Facebook account was hacked.

In Palghar, where two girls were also recently arrested over a Facebook post criticising the Mumbai bandh for the funeral procession of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray, every youngster, active on social media, is now wary of what they post online. "The message was written to create tension amongst north Indians and the MNS," said the youth.

Even before the storm over the arrest of the two girls had receded, the Palghar youth was questioned by the police for alleged derogatory posts against the MNS chief , and after he claimed that his account was hacked, a case under the IT Act was registered against an unknown person after the police concluded that a fake account was created in the youth's name.

Meanwhile, taking a cue from the Shiv Sena, the MNS too threatened to teach Raj Thackeray 's online critics a lesson. MNS district chief Kundan Sankhe said, "Proper punishment should be meted out so that such posts are not made."

However, amidst the fear came some respite for the two girls who were arrested for their posts on Mumbai shutting down following Bal Thackeray's death. The Maharashtra Director General of Police (DGP) hinted a closure report would be filed soon, even as the Centre drafted new guidelines on the usage of IT laws. The Supreme Court, too, admitted the PIL asking for section 66 A to be made non cognisable.

While the Palghar arrests have certainly reignited the long pending debate of section 66(A) of the IT Act, it has also brought to the fore the intolerance of the political class towards any criticism. This episode has certainly been a setback for all those who vigorously use social networking sites to express their views. It has brought in a sense of fear.

What the Section 66 (A) of IT Act says:

1. Punishment for sending offensive messages via electronic mail message

2. Any electronic mail message that is grossly offensive or is menacing

3. Any false info causing annoyance, insult, danger

4. Causing inconvenience

5. Deceiving or misleading recipient

6. If guilty, faces up to 3 years in jail and a penalty.

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