Days after the police arrested two young women in Maharashtra for an innocuous post on Facebook about the bandh-like situation in Mumbai following Bal Thackeray’s death, the central government has begun to consider the possibility of changing the information technology law to ensure it is not misused or abused.
Following national outrage over the police action, Communications and IT Minister Kapil Sibal had said he was “deeply saddened” by the arrests, and that the IT Act should not be “misused” to “throttle dissent”.
“We will talk to all stakeholders and if there is consensus, we will write to states asking them to designate senior police officers without whose clearance arrests under the Information Technology Act can’t be made,” Sibal told The Indian Express in an interview.
“We may ask them that unless the designated officer decides that the offence requires police action, no action should be initiated. It can be a IG-level officer or somebody senior, whose job it will be to certify that a particular case is fit enough to be proceeded against under 66A... You will have a fair level of protection (from the abuse of the law),” Sibal said.
Section 66A (sending offensive messages) of the IT Act provides for a three-year jail term for a wide range of offences from sending messages of a “menacing character” to “causing annoyance or inconvenience”.
The government, Sibal said, was open to considering all options on the law.
“We have a meeting on November 29. We will see if we need to put guidelines in place or should we prescribe that the power has to be exercised by a high-level officer and not left to a sub-inspector. All these matters will be discussed and if we believe that this law is so grossly inadequate or the law in every situation is liable to be misused, we may even go for a substitute,” Sibal said.
“But what that substitute should be, we don’t know,” he added. “Because that substitute must also serve a purpose. We can’t allow menacing threats also to be made through the Internet. There has to some law.”
It was important, the minister said, to strike a balance between freedom of speech and expression, and interests of the individual. “There are restrictions... How the restrictions are to be couched is to be decided. But I am sure we will be able to do it,” he said.
Sibal stressed the