New Delhi: No less than a police officer of a rank of DCP will be allowed to permit registration of a case under provisions of the Information Technlogy Act that deals with spreading hatred through electronic messages, following uproar over recent arrests under the controversial law. In the case of metropolitan cities, such an approval will have to come at the level of Inspector General of Police.
"... the concerned police officer or police station may 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," a top source said. The guidelines are being issued after controversial arrests by Mumbai police under Section 66 (A) of Information Technology (IT) Act that deals with spreading hatred through electronic messages.
The cases against two teenage girls who had objected to a bandh-like situation in Mumbai after Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray's death and were arrested, are now being dropped. On Wednesday, a 19-year-old boy was detained in Thane district on suspicion of posting an "objectionable" Facebook comment against MNS chief Raj Thackeray but later let off. Currently, a police station in-charge or an inspector can register a case under the said provision.
Section 66 (A), which is a bailable offence and provides for a jail term of up to three years, 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. The source expressed confidence that such instances can be avoided once the new guidelines were put in place.
"There are procedural difficulties faced... we are going to circulate to all state governments as guidelines with regard to registering any complaints under Section 66 (A)," he said. The IT Act is not being amended, an official clarified, adding that powers vest only with Parliament and what the government intends to do is only to issue operational guidelines.
However, noted cyber lawyer Pavan Duggal said while the intention is noble, the move will not help achieve the desired motive and is like "repairing a leaking roof with a bandage during rain". "Only Parliamentary amendments in the IT Act can achieve the desired objective. The issuance of guidelines without amending the IT Act are cosmetic changes to satisfy the backlash from social media," he added. Pranesh Prakash, Policy Director at the Centre for Internet and Society said the guidelines are a welcome step and reflected the governments interest in addressing the issue.
He added that the government now needs to take a re-look at the penalties as there is a discussion on the internet freedom and freedom of speech globally. Meanwhile, Minister of Communications and IT Kapil Sibal on Thursday met members of the civil society to discuss various sections of the IT Act and its impact as debates around free speech and online freedom gain ground. So far, the government has maintained that it is the misinterpretation of IT Rules at ground level that is responsible for cropping up of such issues rather than the language of the legislation.
Though there was a broad consensus on most issues, it was felt that those around intermediaries needed to be discussed further. It was also decided that regular meetings between the members of society and the ministry would be held to understand the happenings on the ground.