“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”
We, the inhabitants of a globalised society, have seen technology empower us like never before. The recent boom in social networking and its widespread reach has demolished barriers between societies and ideas. Internet has suddenly emerged as popular forum to vent public dissatisfaction against tyranny and governments. Anything that happens even in the remotest part of the globe is available at the click of a mouse and manifests the strength to overthrow regimes.
And there have been setbacks. Intrusion in privacy, identity theft, cyber fraud and unnecessary exposure to mention a few. Governments realise that cutting down access to the international web of information is one way to suppress public discontent. In this context must be read Section 66A of the IT Act 2000, amended in 2008 and assented to by the President on February 5, 2009.
It reads as-
Any person who sends by means of a computer resource or 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 decieve or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages shall be liable to imprisonment for a term extending upto 3 years and with fine.
It is true that the section deals with a wide array of cyber offences but on the other hand is also vague and prone to misuse. Furthermore, the police has not been provided any training about the sensitivity and proper understanding of a cyber crime committed. Any act that defines a crime must be precise and clearly worded but the section uses the words ‘menacing’, ‘offensive’ which are nowhere defined by Indian law. So what exactly constitutes an electronic message to be offensive or of a menacing character? Interpretation becomes relative and objective.
The recent furore over Shaheen Dhadha and Renu Srinivasan being arrested last week over a Facebook post criticising the bandh like condition in Mumbai after Bal Thackeray’s death and a youth in Palghar arrested on November 28 for posting “vulgar” comments against MNS chief Raj Thackeray and people of Maharashtra on Facebook has opened up debate regarding the gross violation of freedom of speech and expression.
(Maharashtra Police has dropped case against the two girls.
“No chargesheet will be filed in the case… There will be a closure report,”
said DGP Sanjeev Dayal)
The Supreme Court recently admitted a PIL challenging the Act by Delhi University law student Shreya Singhal. A bench headed by CJI Altamas Kabir directed the petitioner to present a copy of the PIL before Attorney General G E Vahanvati who is likely to give his opinion on Friday.
The CJI said, “Arrest of children outraged sentiments of country.”
While cyber activists and several people want the section 66A of the Act to be repealed, some feel that guidelines added to it shall be enough.
Meanwhile the Government issued guidelines on November 29 that state approval from an officer of DCP level in rural areas and IG level in metros will have to be sought before registering complaints under the controversial section.
What bugs me is the fact that are we to be in constant fear that while we voice our personal opinions on political issues, the same might be deemed inappropriate by the Government and we shall be liable to face arrest! The very thought is outrageous.
The very notion of freedom is hurled out of the window.