SC bars arbitrary arrest for 'objectionable' website postings

The Supreme Court today said that no person should be arrested for posting comments on social networking sites which the authorities deem objectionable without permission from senior police officials.

Ruling on a public interest litigation (PIL), the apex court stopped short of banning the arrest of a person for merely making comments on websites. Instead it said state governments and union territories should ensure strict compliance with the central government's 9 January advisory, which says a person should not be arrested unless sanctioned by an Inspector General of Police (IGP) in cities or a Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) in rural jurisdictions.

"We direct the state governments to ensure compliance with the (centre's) guidelines before making any arrest," a bench of justices B S Chauhan and Dipak Misra said.

The court's directions on arrests under Section 66A of the IT Act came during a hearing on a plea that challenged the arrest of a human rights activist from Andhra Pradesh last week for posting allegedly defamatory comments against a Congress leader on Facebook.

The petitioner in the case, law student Shreya Singhal, also challenged the validity of Section 66A, and had urged that no arrests should be made under the controversial section till the Supreme Court decides on her PIL.

The court has held its final decision on the issue.

Singhal had filed her plea challenging Section 66A last year after two girls were arrested in Mumbai's satellite city Thane for a Facebook comment against the shutdown of the metropolis after the death of political leader Bal Thackeray of the thuggish Shiv Sena.

Section 66A states that any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or communication device, information that is deemed grossly offensive, or of a menacing character, can be fined and imprisoned for up to three years.

In the Andhra Pradesh case, Jaya Vindyala, a lawyer and president of the Andhra Pradesh unit of People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), was arrested in Hyderabad on Sunday afternoon for comments about A Krishnamohan, a Congress MLA from Chirala in Prakasam district. She was released on bail two days later.

Following public outrage over people being arrested for making comments or 'liking' posts on sites like Facebook, the centre had on 9 January issued an advisory to all states and union territories asking them not to arrest a person in such cases without prior approval of a senior police officer.