Thursday February 21, 2019

Here’s why the abolition of Section 66 A of the IT Act is a good thing

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By Newsgram Staff Writer

Virtual world and social media are flooded with applauds for the Supreme Court’s decision of quashing of the controversial Section 66 A of the IT Act. Here’s what the verdict of court means for citizens of India.

To start with, let’s examine the wording of the Section 66 A, which clearly 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.”

This particular Section of the IT Act was used and misused widely in the last few years by the government machinery to curb the constitutional rights of the citizens in the country.

Congress spokesman Manish Tewari said, the Supreme Court has done the “right and appropriate thing” by striking down the provision.

“It had become an instrument of oppression. It had put too much of power in the hands of law enforcement authorities to persecute and hound people who maybe innocuously or intentionally indulged in dissent,” he told the media.

Section 66A contained legal recourse against a number of cyber crimes such as stalking, bullying, threatening through SMS and email, phishing and spamming, among others. These crimes, will now be left uncovered after the judgement of the apex court.

Legal experts believe that as far as genuine cases of defamation are concerned, there is a provision under Section 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code. Since Section 4 of the IT Act brings electronic information at par with physical documents, the same provision can be applied in the case.

Elaborating the grounds for holding the provision “unconstitutional”, the court said terms like “annoying”, “inconvenient” and “grossly offensive”, used in the provision, are vague as it is difficult for the law enforcement agency and the offender to know the ingredients of the offence. The bench also referred to two judgments of UK courts which reached different conclusions on whether the material in question was offensive or grossly offensive.

“When judicially trained minds can reach on different conclusions” while going through the same content, then how is it possible for law enforcement agency and others to decide as to what is offensive and what is grossly offensive, the bench said, adding, “What may be offensive  to a person may not be offensive to the other.”

The bench rejected the assurance given by the NDA government during the hearing that certain procedures may be laid down to ensure that the law in question is not abused.

Additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta told the court that “there was a need for a mechanism to put checks and balances on this medium,” because the Internet doesn’t “operate in an institutional form.”

 “Considering the reach and impact of medium, leeway needs to be given to legislature to frame rules. On the Internet every individual is a director, producer and broadcaster and a person can send offensive material to millions of people at a same time in nanosecond just with a click of button.”  Mehta told the Court.

Mehta also said that the vague wording of Section 66A, which said ‘grossly inoffensive’ content could land someone in prison for three year, was not a good enough reason to get rid of the section.

In the earlier hearings, Mehta had given examples of how the Ministry of Defence and External Affairs, received emails that were designed to hack and steal information from the ministries, in an effort to convince the court that Section 66A was needed to prevent such activities.

“Governments come and go but section 66A will remain forever,” the bench said, adding the present government cannot give an undertaking about its successor that they will not abuse the same.

Apart from raising objections to who could determine what constituted ‘grossly offensive content’, the court has also not been impressed with the government argument that the section was needed to protect government data from hackers, and had pointed out that this eventuality was already dealt with viruses and hacking for which Section 65 of the IT Act was relevant.

Next Story

Cyber Crimes Pose a Challenge to Traditional Policing, Says Home Minister Rajnath Singh

The Home Minister also inaugurated a Delhi Police residential block comprising 56 flats. The Delhi Police built 312 dwelling units last year and another 969 units are under construction

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Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Monday said that cyber crimes pose a challenge to traditional policing and called upon police personnel to enhance their skills to tackle threats posed from the cyber world.

“If we have to build public trust in a digital world, then we will have to bear zero tolerance towards cyber crime,” he said after inaugurating the Cyber Prevention, Awareness and Detection Centre (CyPAD) of Delhi Police and the National Cyber Forensic Lab of the Home Ministry.

Home Minister said in this era of internet and computers, there exists an aspect of cyber crime whether it is cyber cheating or fraud, women harassment or terror recruitment which needs to be strongly addressed.

“Internet is a platform not only aiding the evolution of social media but also crucial to online banking, shopping and remotely operated systems in industry. We have to develop institutional mechanisms for undertaking timely assessment to challenges in cyber space and securing it for the common man,” he said.

He said the ministry has initiated several steps in the last more than four years to deal with cyber crimes including setting up of an Inter-Ministerial Committee on Phone Frauds.

“For effectively tackling challenges to cyber space, we need an institutional mechanism at the national level involving the private sector also and coordination at the national and international levels,” he said.

File Photo.

The Home Ministry has set up an Expert Group for a detailed study and initiated creation of the Cyber Crime Coordination Centre which will deal with cyber forensics, cyber investigation, cyber research and innovation, threat analytics and cyber training.

Rajnath Singh said the setting up of the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (i-4C) is a step towards its implementation.

He said the CyPAD will deal with crypto-currency frauds and international tech-supported frauds.

Also Read- After 750 mn, Hacker Puts 93 mn More Users’ Data on Sale

All these steps are aimed at achieving the “minimum government, maximum governance” goal set under the direction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he said.

The Home Minister also inaugurated a Delhi Police residential block comprising 56 flats. The Delhi Police built 312 dwelling units last year and another 969 units are under construction. (IANS)