You are here: Home » Economy & Policy » Features
Business Standard

Pavan Duggal: Section 66A OF IT Act - your friend or foe?

How law enforcers using the section as a tool for gagging legitimate free online speech

Pavan Duggal 

There has been a great deal of controversy during the last few months over the questionable use of of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000. In April this year, Professor was arrested under this section for forwarding caricatures on chief on   The Ravi Srinivasan case showed how on a complaint, a person’s tweets on reports of corruption could be brought within the ambit of the section.

In the K V Rao case, two men, K.V. Rao and Mayank from Mumbai, were arrested for allegedly posting offensive comments against some leaders on their group.

The most recent case, of course, is that of who was arrested by the Palghar police for a rather innocuous post. Her friend, Rinu Srinivasan, was also detained simply for liking the post. Understandably, there was considerable outrage from all quarters over the way in which the cops used Indian cyberlaw to harass two innocent citizens.
 
In the last few days, we have been seen various discussions about defective IT legislation in India and the need for changing it.



This article aims to explain in common man's language what of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000 is all about.

makes it an offence to send, by means of a computer resource or communication device, any of the following information:

1)    any information that is grossly offensive;

2)    any information that has menacing character;

3)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing annoyance;

4)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing inconvenience;

5)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing danger;

6)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing obstruction;

7)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing insult;

8)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing injury;

9)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing criminal intimidation;

10)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing enmity;

11)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing hatred; or

12)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing ill will.

All the above as per (3) to (12) must be done persistently by using a computer resource or communication device. 

13)    any e-mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance;

14)    any e-mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing inconvenience;

15)    any electronic mail or electronic mail message to deceive the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages;

16)    any e-mail or electronic mail message to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages.

So if you are a social media user or even if you use a computer system or mobile, beware. You could be brought within the ambit of of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000.

To help understand the scope of this section, let’s examine some common illustrations of acts, which could come within its ambit. 

When you send either by means of a Computer, Computer System, Computer Network or using Mobile Phone, Smart Phone, iPhone, iPad, Tablet, Smart Devices, Personal Digital Assistants, or any other communication devices, the following kind of information, you could be covered under of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000:

1)    If you swear or abuse somebody, the swear words could be said to be grossly offensive. The same could also be said to be having menacing character and your act could come within the ambit of Section 66A(a) of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000. 

2)    Anything defamatory which affects the character, reputation, standing or goodwill of a person could also be deemed to be grossly offensive.

3)    Making false allegations against the character of a person or character assassination could also qualify as grossly offensive and having menacing character.

4)    Using insulting words or symbols which are obscene, could also qualify as grossly offensive and having menacing character.

5)    Calling someone names could also be brought within the ambit of being grossly offensive or having menacing character

6)    Posting pictures of a person in uncomplimentary situations and environments could also be said to be grossly offensive or having menacing character. For example, if you morphed someone’s face on the face of erotic/nude model’s body, your action wouldn’t be just obscene, but would also be grossly offensive and menacing.

7)    Electronic morphing which shows a person depicted in a bad light could also be seen as an example of information being grossly offensive or having menacing character.

8)    Using vernacular bad words in English alphabets could also qualify as grossly offensive or having menacing character.

9)    Threatening somebody with consequences for his life, apart from being separate offences, could be also construed as information which is grossly offensive or menacing.

10)    Threatening to expose the ill-deeds of somebody could also qualify as menacing.

11)    Information containing malicious, mischievous character assassination

12)    Information containing morphed pictures aimed at hurting religious sentiments.

13)    Information showing deities of particular religions in an uncomplimentary light.

14)    Putting the picture of a person against a slogan/phrase/saying which does not depict his true character or personality.

15)    Deceiving the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages. For example, sending emails from a fake email account to another person, could qualify as an offence under  

16)    Further, misleading the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages, e.g. sending e-mails and SMSs in the name of for big lotteries, could also invite the provisions of

17)    E-mail containing fake recruitment offers to unsuspected members of the public, could also qualify as an offence under

The aforesaid are just some illustrations to demonstrate how broad is, and how it can impact you. The illustrations are neither comprehensive nor complete but have been given as selective examples of the ambit of for academic, research and review purposes only.

The language and scope of legal terms used under are very wide and capable of distinctive varied interpretations. Seen from another angle, the section can be effectively used as a tool for gagging legitimate free online speech. The problem here is that comes with extremely wide parameters which have not been given any specific definitions under the law. These parameters are capable of being interpreted in any manner possible by the law-enforcement agencies. As such, while the section talks about sending any information that is grossly offensive or having menacing character, the law does not give any guidance as to what is grossly offensive or information having menacing character. Thus, it is left to the subjective discretion of the law-enforcement agencies in this regard. All wide meaning terms used under have not been defined, which itself provides huge amount of flexibility in to be used in any circumstances perceivable. Thus, large portions of legitimate free online speech could also be brought within the ambit of the section. Given the advent of technology and the way people are misusing the same, there could be millions of situations which could qualify as offences under

Learnings:

Till such time is either changed,  modified, varied or amended, it will be imperative that you exercise due diligence when you send information on the Internet, social media and mobile networks. The focus of the law is not on publishing information, it is on the offence of sending information. This assumes more significance, since whenever you are on the Internet or when you are sending e-mail or posting or publishing a blog or creating an SMS, as you are sending these electronic records from your computer system or communication device. Hence, be very careful before you send information on electronic platforms and computer networks.

Conclusion:

There are tremendous problems in the way of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000 has been drafted.  This provision, even though has been inspired by the noble objectives of protecting reputations and preventing misuse of networks, has not been able to achieve its goals.  The language of of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000 goes far beyond the reasonable restrictions on free speech, as mandated under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India.  For India, being the world’s largest, vibrant democracy, reasonable restrictions on free speech need to be very strictly construed.  of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000 has the potential of prejudicially impacting free speech in the digital and mobile ecosystems.  of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000 needs to be amended to made the Indian Cyberlaw in sync with the principles enshrined in the Constitution of India and also with the existing realities of social media and digital platforms today. 

Pavan Duggal is an advocate at the Supreme Court of India

RECOMMENDED FOR YOU

Pavan Duggal: Section 66A OF IT Act - your friend or foe?

How law enforcers using the section as a tool for gagging legitimate free online speech

There has been a great deal of controversy during the last few months over the questionable use of Section 66A of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000. In April this year, Professor Ambikesh Mahapatra was arrested under this section for forwarding caricatures on Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee on Facebook.  The Ravi Srinivasan Twitter case showed how on a complaint, a person’s tweets on reports of corruption could be brought within the ambit of the section.

There has been a great deal of controversy during the last few months over the questionable use of of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000. In April this year, Professor was arrested under this section for forwarding caricatures on chief on   The Ravi Srinivasan case showed how on a complaint, a person’s tweets on reports of corruption could be brought within the ambit of the section.

In the K V Rao case, two men, K.V. Rao and Mayank from Mumbai, were arrested for allegedly posting offensive comments against some leaders on their group.

The most recent case, of course, is that of who was arrested by the Palghar police for a rather innocuous post. Her friend, Rinu Srinivasan, was also detained simply for liking the post. Understandably, there was considerable outrage from all quarters over the way in which the cops used Indian cyberlaw to harass two innocent citizens.
 
In the last few days, we have been seen various discussions about defective IT legislation in India and the need for changing it.

This article aims to explain in common man's language what of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000 is all about.

makes it an offence to send, by means of a computer resource or communication device, any of the following information:

1)    any information that is grossly offensive;

2)    any information that has menacing character;

3)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing annoyance;

4)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing inconvenience;

5)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing danger;

6)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing obstruction;

7)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing insult;

8)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing injury;

9)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing criminal intimidation;

10)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing enmity;

11)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing hatred; or

12)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing ill will.

All the above as per (3) to (12) must be done persistently by using a computer resource or communication device. 

13)    any e-mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance;

14)    any e-mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing inconvenience;

15)    any electronic mail or electronic mail message to deceive the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages;

16)    any e-mail or electronic mail message to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages.

So if you are a social media user or even if you use a computer system or mobile, beware. You could be brought within the ambit of of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000.

To help understand the scope of this section, let’s examine some common illustrations of acts, which could come within its ambit. 

When you send either by means of a Computer, Computer System, Computer Network or using Mobile Phone, Smart Phone, iPhone, iPad, Tablet, Smart Devices, Personal Digital Assistants, or any other communication devices, the following kind of information, you could be covered under of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000:

1)    If you swear or abuse somebody, the swear words could be said to be grossly offensive. The same could also be said to be having menacing character and your act could come within the ambit of Section 66A(a) of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000. 

2)    Anything defamatory which affects the character, reputation, standing or goodwill of a person could also be deemed to be grossly offensive.

3)    Making false allegations against the character of a person or character assassination could also qualify as grossly offensive and having menacing character.

4)    Using insulting words or symbols which are obscene, could also qualify as grossly offensive and having menacing character.

5)    Calling someone names could also be brought within the ambit of being grossly offensive or having menacing character

6)    Posting pictures of a person in uncomplimentary situations and environments could also be said to be grossly offensive or having menacing character. For example, if you morphed someone’s face on the face of erotic/nude model’s body, your action wouldn’t be just obscene, but would also be grossly offensive and menacing.

7)    Electronic morphing which shows a person depicted in a bad light could also be seen as an example of information being grossly offensive or having menacing character.

8)    Using vernacular bad words in English alphabets could also qualify as grossly offensive or having menacing character.

9)    Threatening somebody with consequences for his life, apart from being separate offences, could be also construed as information which is grossly offensive or menacing.

10)    Threatening to expose the ill-deeds of somebody could also qualify as menacing.

11)    Information containing malicious, mischievous character assassination

12)    Information containing morphed pictures aimed at hurting religious sentiments.

13)    Information showing deities of particular religions in an uncomplimentary light.

14)    Putting the picture of a person against a slogan/phrase/saying which does not depict his true character or personality.

15)    Deceiving the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages. For example, sending emails from a fake email account to another person, could qualify as an offence under  

16)    Further, misleading the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages, e.g. sending e-mails and SMSs in the name of for big lotteries, could also invite the provisions of

17)    E-mail containing fake recruitment offers to unsuspected members of the public, could also qualify as an offence under

The aforesaid are just some illustrations to demonstrate how broad is, and how it can impact you. The illustrations are neither comprehensive nor complete but have been given as selective examples of the ambit of for academic, research and review purposes only.

The language and scope of legal terms used under are very wide and capable of distinctive varied interpretations. Seen from another angle, the section can be effectively used as a tool for gagging legitimate free online speech. The problem here is that comes with extremely wide parameters which have not been given any specific definitions under the law. These parameters are capable of being interpreted in any manner possible by the law-enforcement agencies. As such, while the section talks about sending any information that is grossly offensive or having menacing character, the law does not give any guidance as to what is grossly offensive or information having menacing character. Thus, it is left to the subjective discretion of the law-enforcement agencies in this regard. All wide meaning terms used under have not been defined, which itself provides huge amount of flexibility in to be used in any circumstances perceivable. Thus, large portions of legitimate free online speech could also be brought within the ambit of the section. Given the advent of technology and the way people are misusing the same, there could be millions of situations which could qualify as offences under

Learnings:

Till such time is either changed,  modified, varied or amended, it will be imperative that you exercise due diligence when you send information on the Internet, social media and mobile networks. The focus of the law is not on publishing information, it is on the offence of sending information. This assumes more significance, since whenever you are on the Internet or when you are sending e-mail or posting or publishing a blog or creating an SMS, as you are sending these electronic records from your computer system or communication device. Hence, be very careful before you send information on electronic platforms and computer networks.

Conclusion:

There are tremendous problems in the way of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000 has been drafted.  This provision, even though has been inspired by the noble objectives of protecting reputations and preventing misuse of networks, has not been able to achieve its goals.  The language of of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000 goes far beyond the reasonable restrictions on free speech, as mandated under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India.  For India, being the world’s largest, vibrant democracy, reasonable restrictions on free speech need to be very strictly construed.  of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000 has the potential of prejudicially impacting free speech in the digital and mobile ecosystems.  of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000 needs to be amended to made the Indian Cyberlaw in sync with the principles enshrined in the Constitution of India and also with the existing realities of social media and digital platforms today. 

Pavan Duggal is an advocate at the Supreme Court of India

image
Business Standard
177 22

Pavan Duggal: Section 66A OF IT Act - your friend or foe?

How law enforcers using the section as a tool for gagging legitimate free online speech

There has been a great deal of controversy during the last few months over the questionable use of of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000. In April this year, Professor was arrested under this section for forwarding caricatures on chief on   The Ravi Srinivasan case showed how on a complaint, a person’s tweets on reports of corruption could be brought within the ambit of the section.

In the K V Rao case, two men, K.V. Rao and Mayank from Mumbai, were arrested for allegedly posting offensive comments against some leaders on their group.

The most recent case, of course, is that of who was arrested by the Palghar police for a rather innocuous post. Her friend, Rinu Srinivasan, was also detained simply for liking the post. Understandably, there was considerable outrage from all quarters over the way in which the cops used Indian cyberlaw to harass two innocent citizens.
 
In the last few days, we have been seen various discussions about defective IT legislation in India and the need for changing it.

This article aims to explain in common man's language what of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000 is all about.

makes it an offence to send, by means of a computer resource or communication device, any of the following information:

1)    any information that is grossly offensive;

2)    any information that has menacing character;

3)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing annoyance;

4)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing inconvenience;

5)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing danger;

6)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing obstruction;

7)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing insult;

8)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing injury;

9)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing criminal intimidation;

10)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing enmity;

11)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing hatred; or

12)    any information which you know to be false but which is sent for purpose of causing ill will.

All the above as per (3) to (12) must be done persistently by using a computer resource or communication device. 

13)    any e-mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance;

14)    any e-mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing inconvenience;

15)    any electronic mail or electronic mail message to deceive the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages;

16)    any e-mail or electronic mail message to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages.

So if you are a social media user or even if you use a computer system or mobile, beware. You could be brought within the ambit of of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000.

To help understand the scope of this section, let’s examine some common illustrations of acts, which could come within its ambit. 

When you send either by means of a Computer, Computer System, Computer Network or using Mobile Phone, Smart Phone, iPhone, iPad, Tablet, Smart Devices, Personal Digital Assistants, or any other communication devices, the following kind of information, you could be covered under of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000:

1)    If you swear or abuse somebody, the swear words could be said to be grossly offensive. The same could also be said to be having menacing character and your act could come within the ambit of Section 66A(a) of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000. 

2)    Anything defamatory which affects the character, reputation, standing or goodwill of a person could also be deemed to be grossly offensive.

3)    Making false allegations against the character of a person or character assassination could also qualify as grossly offensive and having menacing character.

4)    Using insulting words or symbols which are obscene, could also qualify as grossly offensive and having menacing character.

5)    Calling someone names could also be brought within the ambit of being grossly offensive or having menacing character

6)    Posting pictures of a person in uncomplimentary situations and environments could also be said to be grossly offensive or having menacing character. For example, if you morphed someone’s face on the face of erotic/nude model’s body, your action wouldn’t be just obscene, but would also be grossly offensive and menacing.

7)    Electronic morphing which shows a person depicted in a bad light could also be seen as an example of information being grossly offensive or having menacing character.

8)    Using vernacular bad words in English alphabets could also qualify as grossly offensive or having menacing character.

9)    Threatening somebody with consequences for his life, apart from being separate offences, could be also construed as information which is grossly offensive or menacing.

10)    Threatening to expose the ill-deeds of somebody could also qualify as menacing.

11)    Information containing malicious, mischievous character assassination

12)    Information containing morphed pictures aimed at hurting religious sentiments.

13)    Information showing deities of particular religions in an uncomplimentary light.

14)    Putting the picture of a person against a slogan/phrase/saying which does not depict his true character or personality.

15)    Deceiving the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages. For example, sending emails from a fake email account to another person, could qualify as an offence under  

16)    Further, misleading the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages, e.g. sending e-mails and SMSs in the name of for big lotteries, could also invite the provisions of

17)    E-mail containing fake recruitment offers to unsuspected members of the public, could also qualify as an offence under

The aforesaid are just some illustrations to demonstrate how broad is, and how it can impact you. The illustrations are neither comprehensive nor complete but have been given as selective examples of the ambit of for academic, research and review purposes only.

The language and scope of legal terms used under are very wide and capable of distinctive varied interpretations. Seen from another angle, the section can be effectively used as a tool for gagging legitimate free online speech. The problem here is that comes with extremely wide parameters which have not been given any specific definitions under the law. These parameters are capable of being interpreted in any manner possible by the law-enforcement agencies. As such, while the section talks about sending any information that is grossly offensive or having menacing character, the law does not give any guidance as to what is grossly offensive or information having menacing character. Thus, it is left to the subjective discretion of the law-enforcement agencies in this regard. All wide meaning terms used under have not been defined, which itself provides huge amount of flexibility in to be used in any circumstances perceivable. Thus, large portions of legitimate free online speech could also be brought within the ambit of the section. Given the advent of technology and the way people are misusing the same, there could be millions of situations which could qualify as offences under

Learnings:

Till such time is either changed,  modified, varied or amended, it will be imperative that you exercise due diligence when you send information on the Internet, social media and mobile networks. The focus of the law is not on publishing information, it is on the offence of sending information. This assumes more significance, since whenever you are on the Internet or when you are sending e-mail or posting or publishing a blog or creating an SMS, as you are sending these electronic records from your computer system or communication device. Hence, be very careful before you send information on electronic platforms and computer networks.

Conclusion:

There are tremendous problems in the way of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000 has been drafted.  This provision, even though has been inspired by the noble objectives of protecting reputations and preventing misuse of networks, has not been able to achieve its goals.  The language of of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000 goes far beyond the reasonable restrictions on free speech, as mandated under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India.  For India, being the world’s largest, vibrant democracy, reasonable restrictions on free speech need to be very strictly construed.  of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000 has the potential of prejudicially impacting free speech in the digital and mobile ecosystems.  of the amended Indian Information Technology Act, 2000 needs to be amended to made the Indian Cyberlaw in sync with the principles enshrined in the Constitution of India and also with the existing realities of social media and digital platforms today. 

Pavan Duggal is an advocate at the Supreme Court of India

image
Business Standard
177 22