Monday, November 5, 2012

Redefining Section 66 of the Indian IT Act

The use of Section 66 A of the Indian IT Act to arrest a businessman, who tweeted that a cabinet minister’s son was corrupt, drew sharp condemnation from twitter users and the national press as it appeared Orwellian. The main issue was ironically not on the use of the law, but on its definition which allowed its use in lieu of other provisions to tackle defamatory statements. People feared that the current definition would be used to instill fear and censor free speech online.

Section 66A of the Indian IT Act 2000 amendment 2008 states “

 Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,—

(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or

(b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device,

(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.

As a layman reading the law, I felt the definition to be comprehensive enough to address a wide range of cybercrimes, but not specifically able to distinguish between the very petty and the more severe cases without going to the courts.

Laws are made to accommodate the normal behavior and misbehavior of people and should not be so encompassing that the definition in itself is difficult to interpret. There is an anti social part in all Internet communication that all netizens are willing to live with, such as those messages which results in annoyance, ill will and inconvenience.

I believe that the section could be furthered refined to target cases where people are unduly harassed by vicious and relentless online messages which affect the emotional behavior of victims, leading to depression, fear and suicides. Such communications which include vulgar emails, death threats, blackmail, hate, sedition, and the posting of a victim’s obscene pictures must be exemplified.

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