And the hits just keep on rolling: Cops at a Thane police station have filed an FIR under the now defunct Section 66A of the IT Act, 2008 against a Facebook user for allegedly posting offensive comments about Prime Minister Narendra Modi, reports The Times of India. The report mentions that Rabodi police station in Thane district lodged an FIR on April 5 against the owner of the Facebook page Revelation Tanzeel (it’s actually a personal account and not a Facebook page).
Apparently, the offensive posts have been removed after the FIR was lodged. It’s not clear if the police wrote to Facebook and got the posts removed or if the Facebook user removed it himself.
It’s surprising (or is it?) that the Thane police weren’t aware that Section 66A had been struck down by the Supreme Court over two weeks back. Even if we give them the benefit of the doubt, we need to ask did they follow the correct guidelines as had been stipulated by the Indian government? If they had, then a senior police official would most likely have informed them that Section 66A has been scrapped. Back in 2013, SC had directed all state governments to implement the Indian government guidelines on Section 66A, which required the approval of a senior police official before arresting any person for posting defamatory content on social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Thane police have the option of removing Section 66A while filing the chargesheet. It’ll resolve the issue for now, however state governments need to immediately issue notices to all police stations within the state informing them about the SC order.
We also need to remember that secret blocking of sites and online content is still possible under Section 69A of the IT Act. The Supreme Court has stated that there are sufficient checks and balances built into Section 69A of the IT Act, but a more detailed evaluation is required. More on it here.