The government has decided to empower only police officers of the rank of deputy commissioner or above in metros and inspector general in non-metro areas to allow the registration of cases under section 66 A of the IT act.
At present, a police station in-charge or an inspector can register a case under the provision, as was done in the case of the two young women in Palghar on November 19, following their Facebook posts on the Mumbai shutdown on Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray’s funeral day.
Section 66A of the IT Act provides for a three-year jail term for a wide range of offences, including sending messages of a "menacing character" and "causing annoyance or inconvenience." A government source said the Palghar arrest was "gross misuse of the provision". What was required, he said, was a "reasonable law exercised reasonably".
The source, however, clarified that the government has only issued operational guidelines on use of section 66A, and this should not be seen as an amendment to the IT Act.
Last week, communications minister Kapil Sibal told HT: "We cannot have the law scrapped because it has been misused. We must take measures to ensure that it is used reasonably and with restraint."
He said he had convened a meeting of activists, IT industry representatives and other stake holders on November 29 to discuss the issue. "The immense flow of information on the internet is highly empowering for the people. We do not want to interrupt that process," he said.