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SC summons attorney general over IT Act

Posted on Nov 29, 10:58PM | IANS

The Supreme Court Thursday asked Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati to appear before it Friday to clarify the government's position on a plea seeking to strike down Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000.

"The way things have taken place, it needs some consideration so that in future it does not happen again," said the court in an observation that came barely days after two girls were arrested in Maharashtra over their comment on a social networking site.

"Children were arrested on the charges of...and there was also a case of (arrest of) a professor of Jadavpur University that involved a chief minister's cartoon," the court said.

The Section 66A of IT Act deals with punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service...which cause annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, the court observed.

The apex court bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice J. Chelameswar asked Vahanvati to appear before it after senior counsel Mukul Rohtagi told the court that Section 66A of the IT Act violated constitutional provisions.

The public interest petition was filed by Shreya Singhal, a student, after people were arrested for violating the IT Act for posting comments critical of political leaders or events on the social networking site Facebook.

The petition also sought issuance of guidelines to reconcile Criminal Procedure Code Section 41 (power of police to arrest without warrant) and 156 (1) (police officer's power to investigate cognizable cases) with the Constitution's Article 19(1)(a) (right to freedom of speech and expression).

In April, West Bengal's Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra was arrested in Kolkata for circulating a cartoon depicting Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

A young woman, Shaheen Dhada, and her friend were arrested in Maharashtra for a Facebook post questioning Mumbai's shutdown following Bal Thackeray's death earlier this month.

While admitting the plea, Chief Justice Kabir said: "We were wondering why nobody has filed petition on this issue. In fact, we were considering taking suo motu cognizance of these incidents."

The petition said that like crores of other citizens, she too was a user of internet and of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and the recent events involving action taken by various authorities under the Section 66A of the IT Act had left a chilling effect on her and others.

The "phraseology of the Section 66A is so wide and vague and incapable of being judged on objective standards, that it is susceptible to wanton abuse," the petition said.

"...this provision is indeed capable of wanton abuse in view of the subjective discretion of police and the susceptibility of it being invoked cavalierly. In fact, the...recent events fortify the apprehensions of the petitioner...," the petition said.