SC to take up plea against arrests over FB posts

Justice Altamas KabirThe Supreme Court today agreed to hear a public interest litigation seeking an amendment to the section of the Information Technology Act that allows almost arbitrary arrests over postings on social networking sites like Facebook.

A bench headed by the Chief Justice of India, Altamas Kabir, said the petition against Section 66(A) of the Information and Technology Act, filed by Delhi student Shreya Singhal is welcome. "We were wondering why no one has approached the Supreme Court (over this) and even thought of taking up the issue suo moto," the Chief Justice said.

Taking the case on urgent basis, the bench initially agreed to hear the PIL later today, but later asked the attorney general to be present on Friday to clarify the government's stand.

Singhal has contended in her plea that "the phraseology of Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000 is so wide and vague that it is incapable of being judged on objective standards, and is susceptible to wanton abuse, and hence falls foul of Article 14, 19 (1)(a) and Article 21 of the Constitution."

She has submitted that "unless there is judicial sanction as a prerequisite to the setting into motion the criminal law with respect to freedom of speech and expression, the law as it stands is highly susceptible to abuse and for muzzling free speech in the country".

In her petition, Singhal refers to the arrests in Maharashtra last week of two women who posted comments on Facebook about the shutdown of Mumbai for Shiv Sena president Bal Thackeray's funeral. The case provoked widespread outrage, and charges against the women were dropped today.