Panel seeks stern law to regulate internet content

Strengthen IPC, don't modify Sec 66A of IT Act

Panel seeks stern law to regulate internet content

Acknowledging the need for regulation of internet content as an “emerging necessity”, a government panel has recommended strengthening of the existing penal provisions to deal with hate speeches rather than reintroducing the controversial Section 66A.

The emphasis of the report of a nine-member expert committee led by former law secretary T K Viswanathan is to strengthen the Indian Penal Code (IPC) “instead of reintroducing a renovated” Section 66A in the Information Technology Act, which was annulled by the Supreme Court for being unconstitutional.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development had argued before the panel for the reintroduction of Section 66A, which was notorious for its misuse, but it felt that the IT Act was “essentially commercial in nature and therefore, for any act invoking punishment, a specific provision must be inserted in the IPC, which is more competent to tackle criminal affairs”.

The panel was appointed by the Ministry of Home Affairs to prepare a roadmap to address the “existing vacuum” caused by the annulment of Section 66A and provide an alternate formulation in the law to deal with the problem of “harmful content radiated over the electronic media” that will stand scrutiny of the courts.

In its interim report, it has recommended inclusion of a new section to the IPC to deal with “content regulation on social media or other internet platforms used for articulating unpleasant opinions”.

The panel said Section 153C is aimed at prohibiting incitement to hatred and invites punishment of two years and a fine up to Rs 5,000 or both. Section 505A aims at punishing the act of causing fear, alarm or provocation of violence with imprisonment of one year, fine up to Rs 5,000 or both.

Besides, an amendment to CrPC is recommended to create State Cyber Crime Coordinator and District Cyber Crime Cells. An amendment to the IT Act is envisaged to allow a police officer not below the rank of sub inspector to investigate any offence under this act.

Practices elsewhere 

Before finalising its recommendation, the panel studied the practices in other countries, including the United States, Germany, the European Union and Australia. “In consonance with the global developments in this arena, the need for the regulation of internet content has likewise become an emerging necessity in India,” the panel said.

Quoting from the UK House of Commons’ report on Hate Crimes: Abuse, Hate and Extremism Online, the panel said there is a great deal of evidence that social media platforms are being used to spread hate, abuse and extremism.

“That trend continues to grow at an alarming rate, but it remains unchecked and, even where it is illegal, largely unpoliced. Women in particular have become targets of abuse and misogynistic harassment on social media, particularly on Twitter,” it quoted from the report.

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