Indian courts reiterate high level approval needed for 'Facebook arrests'
Summary: To curb the abuse of a controversial digital law, the Indian Supreme Court said that only high-ranking police officers can approve the arrest of citizens who publish "objectionable" online comments, including Facebook posts or "likes".
India's Supreme Court has that only high-ranking police officers can order the arrests of citizens that post or like "objectionable" statements on Facebook, following public outrage over the arrests of people doing so.
According to a Times of India report, the Supreme Court yesterday directed all states and territories to obey a Central Government advisory clarifying the controversial Section 66A of the Information Technology Act.
On January 9, the central government advised that only an inspector general of police or higher--the top three ranked officers--can use Section 66A to order citizens be arrested when they publish objectionable comments online.
"We direct the state governments to ensure compliance with the guidelines [issued by Central Government] before making any arrest," a bench of justices B.S. Chauhan and Dipak Misra said.
The court is waiting to hear a case challenging the constitutional validity of the legislation, which states that "any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or communication device, any information that is grossly offensive or has a menacing character could be imprisoned for a maximum term of three years, in addition to facing significant fines".
The law was exercised as recently as May 12, when police arrested Jaya Vindhayal, the state general secretary of People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) for objectionable comments against Tamil Nadu governor K. Rosaiah and Congress MLA Amanchi Krishna Mohan.
Last year, police arrested Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Shrinivasan after one of them complained about the shutdown in Mumbai following the death of Bal Thackeray, founder of Hindu nationalist political party Shiv Sena, and the other 'liked' it.
When asked by the Supreme Court to explain the detainment of two 21 year-old girls, the Maharashtra government said it was "unwarranted" and "hasty", and "could not be justified".