The Supreme Court on Friday took a critical stand on section 66A of the Information and Technology (IT) Act, observing that the wording of the provision was broad, making it susceptible to abuse.
“The section may be well-intended, but the wording is very broad. It does not satisfy anybody and can be used against anyone,” a bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice Chelameswar Prasad told attorney general GE Vahanvati when the latter justified the provision.
The apex court also asked the Centre as well as governments of Maharashtra, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Puducherry to respond to a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking scrapping of section 66A.
The court gave four weeks to three ministries — home affairs, information and technology, and law and justice — to respond to the PIL filed by an aspiring law student, Shreya Singhal, challenging the section. It also allowed cartoonist Aseem Trivedi — who recently faced trouble under the same section — to become a party in the case. The matter would be heard after six weeks.
Section 66A of the IT Act has been a subject of debate following a spate of arrests of people who posted updates on social networking website Facebook.
The court also addressed the case of the two Palghar girls, who were charged for denouncing the bandh following Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s death. The SC ordered the Maharashtra government to explain the circumstances under which the two were arrested.
“We would also like to be informed as to what kind of action has been taken against the officers who invoked this provision against the children,” the bench said.
Welcoming the court order, cyber law expert Pawan Duggal said, “Judicial intervention was required. A large portion of the section violates Article 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution since it discriminates online free speech against physical world free speech.”
Meanwhile, telecom minister Kapil Sibal's personal website was hacked and defaced by the Anonymous group, which claimed it was protesting against online censorship and curbs on free speech. While there was no official statement on the hacking, the government on Friday said 294 websites belonging to various ministries and government departments were hacked in the January-October 2012 period.