Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Your posts could be misused to settle scores
Most countries have enacted laws to police online publications that are libellous, criminal and violate national security interests. Publishing and republishing such posts and tweets is against the law. Cybercitizens and journalists need to be aware that republishing posts by “liking”, “retweeting” or copying the contents in news reports or blogs can also constitute a crime. Unfortunately, the drafting of these cyber laws have introduced a level of subjectivity in their interpretation and execution (Redefining Section 66 A of the IT Act), which can be conveniently misused by third parties to settle scores and for their political interests.
Last week there was a huge uproar in Mumbai, India when two young girls were arrested for a Facebook post questioning the shutdown in Mumbai to mourn the death of a popular political leader. One girl was arrested for writing the Facebook post and the other for liking it. Both were charged for hurting religious sentiment, a section which can attract three years of imprisonment. Both these incidents led to a widespread public condemnation on the way the police interpreted the law, took action and the failure to dismiss these cases by both the police and judiciary. The political pressure from the people’s movement resulted in the suspension of the police officer who registered the case and the transfer of a magistrate who allowed it to proceed without sufficient assessment of its merits.
From what it appears, the current case in Mumbai will lead to the adoption of a set of procedures by the police to filter out frivolous complaints through a process of validation of such complaints with their legal cell.
Cybercitizens should bear in mind that the openness of the Internet allows posts to be seen by a wider audience who may interpret their contents with a vastly different perspective and motive than your close friends. They may also use this opportunity to file complaints to further their political interests, and in the process ensure complete disruption of normal life for the person who wrote the post. It may be wise to bear in mind that your posts can be misused by a person you trusted to settle scores or by strangers for their political interests.
Appropriate privacy settings and judicious review of what you post and tweet is essential.