IT Act stringency to be reviewed to check misuse

In the backdrop of June 2 Pune techie’s killing over “objectionable” post on Facebook, the Law Commission’s move to issue consultation paper inviting opinions on continuance of stringent Section 66A of the Information Technology Act in the present form has gained relevance.

Section 66A of the Act makes it a punishable offence to send messages that are offensive or false or created for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill-will, through a computer device.

Though the murder was apparently a manifestation of gross intolerance in the society, the Law Commission has acknowledged the fact that the wide amplitude of the provisions had often led to unnecessary harassment of users of social media, including the arrests, which required consideration over the extent of regulation.

“The ability to disseminate information seamlessly over social media has resulted in a rising need to regulate the content of such information… Since no guidelines have been laid down for identification of offensive information, the wide amplitude of the provision has often been used for politically motivated arrests,” it said.

The legality of Section 66A has been challenged before the Supreme Court for being violative of the freedom of speech and expression through several PILs. Though no stay on arrests under this provision has been granted, the apex court has held that no person should be arrested for posting objectionable comments online without permission of senior police officers.

Instances of social media having often been used as a conduit for instigating ethnic and communal violence such as false rumours online have come to the fore in recent times with the latest being in the Muzaffarnagar riots

“Though, the Print and Electronic Media Standards and Regulation Bill, 2012, proposed the establishment of a media regulatory authority, the Bill did not get introduced. Under the present Act, the Cyber Appellate Tribunal is empowered to deal with complaints under the Act but is largely confined to cases of fraud and hacking,” the commission noted.

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