Need Net-etiquette to counter abuse of law | chandigarh | Hindustan Times
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Need Net-etiquette to counter abuse of law

In the past few weeks, section 66A of Information Technology (IT) Act has been in the news for the right and wrong reasons. People have been arrested and sent to jail by use/abuse of the law in different cities of India, most recent case being that of two young girls arrested in Mumbai who were even remanded to long judicial custody. Kiran Bedi writes

chandigarh Updated: Dec 12, 2012 22:09 IST
Kiran Bedi

In the past few weeks, section 66A of Information Technology (IT) Act has been in the news for the right and wrong reasons. People have been arrested and sent to jail by use/abuse of the law in different cities of India, most recent case being that of two young girls arrested in Mumbai who were even remanded to long judicial custody. However, they were spared 15 days of jail due to timely build-up of public outcry based on pressure through media exposure.


What is this law? Why is it in the news? What are its provisions that enable it to be in the news? Why is it so lethal? Should it be not be amended? If yes, why? Is the crime that s defined under this law unique in modern times? What is that we need to do for now and long term? Have we identified that?

To address some of these questions we need to examine section 66A of the IT Act. For immediate access and understanding here it is given verbatim: "Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication device, etc. -- any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or any information that 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; or any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience 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 is the law as of now for all communications transmitted through computers, mobile phones, or any other electronic devices, magnetic, be it in word, sound or visual!

These are cognisable offences, which means the police can arrest without any warrant. This is the law which was applied in the case of two girls who expressed their feeling amongst their own group of friends on the social networking site Facebook against the closure of the city of Mumbai on the death of a political leader of stature.

The days of the postman are gone. Our world has changed. We are now in cyber-space, communicating with lightning speed. A few lines on Facebook or Twitter are accessible in a fraction of a second to millions across the world -- something which is meant to be 'one to one' is readable for millions and billions instantly via the internet, which is cheap, anonymous, pervasive and truly global. Nothing is secret; nothing is restricted to one-to-one, unless one has the strong walls of well-constructed software.

Therefore, as compared to limited annoyance between two persons, (dependent on the interpretation of the message), it could lead to widespread offense, insult, falsehood, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, and ill will! Hence we need to grasp this power and sensitivity of the cyber-space. We are all under open skies.

Who is to judge these offences, if any? Remember that the complainant, with or without a clout, has a right to complain, but no right to insist on arrests. That remains the responsibility of enforcing agencies.

In order to ensure due applicability of mind in the enforcement of IT Act, we need to create an ecosystem based on three Es -- Establishing a usage policy; Education and Enforcement. The law needs to be followed up by establishment of a Social Media Policy. This implies that every department, government or private entity that employs people and uses social media and electronic devices to transmit business must formulate a user policy that is clear and precise, more so because every transaction is of legal consequence with evidentiary value.

The other two Es being Education and Enforceability imply training and it's the policy's practise.

Have the using agencies done this so far? Have these been made public? Do the employees and people know? This applies to all, most of all to law-enforcing agencies because it is a question of crime prevention, detection, prosecution and punishment; to the business world because it could be the complainants, perpetrators, victims and witnesses; to the Netizens because they are users and abusers of service, and could be the accused or defendants!

Like the IT Act, there are hundreds of other laws with cognisable crimes. That does not mean that the police must arrest instantly. To register crime is its duty, but to investigate the crime fairly, adequately and professionally, is its sacred responsibility.

As of now, this kind of ecosystem with eco-stake holders ensuring Net-etiquette is yet to find its due space. No wonder the chaos!