Facebook row: Govt buckles to pressure, unveils guidelines to prevent misuse of IT Act

Nov 29 2012, 21:55 IST
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SummaryNow, a police officer no less than the rank of DCP can sanction prosecution.

Yielding to public protests on the recent controversial arrest of some persons for their Facebook posts, government today came out with guidelines where a police officer no less than the rank of DCP can sanction prosecution.

In metropolitan cities, such an approval would have to be given by officers at the level of Inspector General of Police (IGP) to ensure no such rows happen again.

Only officers of these ranks will be allowed to permit registration of a case for offences under the Information Technlogy (IT) Act relating to spreading hatred through electronic messages in a bid to prevent the misuse of the legislation.

"... the concerned police officer or police station may not register any complaints (under Section 66 (A))unless he has obtained prior approval at the level of an officer not below the DCP rank in urban and rural areas and IG level in metros," a top source said. Currently, a police station in-charge or an inspector can register a case under the said provision.

Guidelines in this regard are being issued against the backdrop of the arrest of two girls by police in Mumbai under Section 66 (A) of Information Technology (IT) Act that deals with spreading hatred through electronic messages.

The arrest of two teenage girls who had criticised the shutdown in Mumbai for Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray's funeral had triggered an outrage. The Maharashtra police has decided to drop the charges.

Yesterday, a 19-year-old boy was detained in Thane district on suspicion of posting an "objectionable" Facebook comment against MNS chief Raj Thackeray but later let off. The source expressed confidence that such instances can be avoided once the new guidelines are put in place.

"There are procedural difficulties faced... we are going to circulate to all state governments as guidelines with regard to registering any complaints under Section 66 (A)," the source said.

The IT Act is not being amended, an official clarified, adding that powers vest only with Parliament and what the government intends to do is only to issue operational guidelines.

Section 66 (A), which is a bailable offence and provides for a jail term of up to three years, makes it an offence to send, by means of a computer resource or communication device, any information which is grossly offensive, menacing, causes annoyance or hatred.

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