SC asks Centre, WB to respond to PIL against IT Act provision

Information technologyA bench of justices R M Lodha and Shiva Kirti Singh issued notices to West Bengal government and Ministries of Home Affairs, Law and Justice and Communications and Information Technology on the plea of the Peoples' Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).

The Supreme Court Friday asked three Central ministries and West Bengal government to respond to a PIL seeking relief, including a stay, on the operation of a provision of the Information Technology Act that provide three years jail term for offensive on-line speech or writing.

A bench of justices R M Lodha and Shiva Kirti Singh issued notices to West Bengal government and Ministries of Home Affairs, Law and Justice and Communications and Information Technology on the plea of the Peoples' Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).

Besides section 66A of the IT Act that gives punitive power to police, PUCL has also challenged certain provisions of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules and the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules which deal with the blocking of websites.

It has sought a direction for formation of a committee of experts in law and information technology to review fresh complaints under Section 66A of the of the IT Act.

No FIR be registered till the court decides the PIL, it said, adding the reasons for blocking the websites be "displayed" by the designated authorities during the pendency of the petition.

It termed the provisions as being violative of Articles 14 (right to equality), 19 (freedom of speech and expression) and 21 (right to life) of the Constitution.

The "criminalisation of speech over the internet and mobile phone communication" is against constitutional schemes and "penalises and restricts online speech to a much greater degree than offline speech," it said, adding "a significant proportion of the offences in Section 66A do not even fall within the permissible categories of restriction in Article 19 (2)(reasonable restrictions to freedom of speech) of the constitution."

The PIL has also cited some illustrations of alleged abuse of section 66A of the Act.

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