Business Standard

A double-edged sword on users

Laws may soon be put to test for upholding individuals' rights

Sudipto Dey 

Soon after Vice-President Rahul Gandhi's interview to a television news channel, the then Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, re-tweeted (and later retracted) a trending post comparing the two prospective prime ministerial candidates in waiting. Perhaps, what Kejriwal did not realise was, had any of the two candidates in question filed defamatory charges, he and his tweet followers could be fined under libel laws and provisions in the Information Technology Act, 2000, if proven guilty in a court of law. A tweet is a digital footprint admissible in a court of law as evidence.

Like Kejriwal, millions of Indian users -mostly unknowingly - are treading on thin ice when it comes to their legal rights and liabilities on the The Indian legal system could soon see a spate of libel and defamatory cases initiated largely from the social media, given the explosive growth in users over the last couple of years. There are over 200 million internet users in India, and most of them are getting connected online through the More so, as Indian business gains traction, or as political parties in an election year discover the power of the social media to influence voters.

That is already the case in many developed markets. Earlier this month, a music teacher in Australia was awarded damages worth for defamation on Twitter and Facebook after she was targeted by a former student. According to reports in the UK media, more than 1,700 cases, involving abusive messages sent online or via text, reached British courts in 2012.

"In India, awareness about social media law is still a grey area. That is why users commit crimes innocently," says Advocate Prashant Mali, cyber law & cyber security expert. According to Pavan Duggal, a leading cyber law expert, there are at least a dozen Twitter-initiated defamation cases in various courts across the country. Experts say Indian law enforcement agencies are still struggling to convince intermediaries, such as Twitter Google or Facebook to readily share physical evidence, or remove objectionable content. While all the laws in the physical world, such as the Indian Penal Code and Consumer Protection Act, apply to the social media as well, the is seen as the mother law that governs the space.

  • Section 66A,67,67A,67B of the are directly applicable to social media in India, even though the word social media is not mentioned anywhere in the Act
  • Section 66A of the IT Act goes beyond the reasonable restrictions on free speech, as mandated under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution
  • Section 66A partially takes away freedom of speech on social media from Indian blogger as he remains under threat of arrest for grossly defaming or writing something which can be construed as having menacing character
  • Section 67 talks of obscenity, Section 67A talks of pornography, Section 67B talks of child pornography and nudity even if searched for on search engines is an non-bailable offence
  • Intermediaries such as search engine or website should publish privacy policy, rules and regulations, user agreement for access or usage
  • Report cyber security incident to Indian law enforcing agencies
  • Publish name of grievance officer with contact details and redress complaints within one month
  • Preserve information and logs for 90 days for investigation purposes
  • Remove any grossly defamatory, obscene, pornographic, hateful, privacy invading or racist content within 36 hours after they are notifieds

First Published: Sun, March 09 2014. 21:35 IST