Facebook row: IT Act undergoes changes, users relieved

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New Delhi, Nov 29: Media reports suggest that government has examined the constitutional validity and modified rules under the controversial Section 66A of the IT Act in the wake of its alleged misuse in recent cases on Thursday, Nov 29. According to sources, government has issued new guidelines. However, OneIndia News is yet to have a copy of the latest guidelines of government.

Facebook, Twitter and email users have expressed relief at the latest move of the government. Moreover, Supreme Court has accepted a student's petition challenging Section 66A on Thursday.

Shreya Singhal from Delhi has filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) that describes Section 66A of the IT Act as unconstitutional. "I feel it is a violation of free speech, it hasn't been updated, and people are using it wrongly," Singhal told NDTV.

Section 66A of the IT Act, framed in 2008, provides for upto three years in jail as punishment for sending "offensive" or "annoying" messages through a computer or communication device. Critics say that the law needs to be reworded more precisely, so that potential violations are clearly explained.

Moreover, an online petition aimed at amending Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act and re-examining internet laws has garnered 3,000 signatures.

The petition, a brainchild of Change.org, a platform for social initiatives, was started by Bangalore-based advocate Gautam John after two girls were arrested for their Facebook post on imposing a bandh in the city on the day Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray was cremated.

Following their arrests, Shaheen Dhada and her friend Rinu, who were arrested for commenting on a social networking site, had deleted their Facebook accounts. Rini Srinivasan is back on Facebook. However, she has vowed to refrain from making political statements.

"Honestly, I don't believe that a petition can change laws, but it gives concerned citizens a platform for documenting their concern in such troubling scenarios. To some extent, this sort of petition can represent a civil society's point of view. No more can a government authority say 'only NGOs care about an issue'. Now they know - thousands of ordinary people care," John said.

Pranesh Prakash, policy director at the Centre For Internet and Society in Bangalore, points out the flaws in Section 66A that have been exploited in cases like the Palghar incident. "Section 66A is very broadly-worded and the punishment (three years imprisonment) is excessive," he said. "The law was borrowed - that too badly - from a British law. There are many a things greatly flawed in this unconstitutional provision, from the disproportionality of the punishment to the non-existence of the crime. The 2008 amendment to the IT Act was one of eight laws passed in 15 minutes without any debate in the winter session of Parliament."

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