Tag: S.66A Information Technology Act

Arnab Goswami, Kunal Kamra and internet governance in India : Where do women victims of cybercrimes stand now? by Dr.Debarati Halder

Picture credit : Debarati Halder

In 2012 the then chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee took a strong a note for Ambarish Mahapatra’s very bold, excessively strong post including a cartoon showcasing Didi and Mukul Roy, who was the then state minister for railways. The cartoon included the railway logo. Mahapatra was arrested in 2012 and later released. In 2015 the courts ordered that Mahapatra should be compensated for the wrongful arrest.[1] Clearly, the court gave a red signal to the West Bengal government for wanting to use executive power to shun critics of the government on internet media. Quite at this time, the courts accepted the arguments of Shreya Singhal for scrapping off S.66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (amended in 2008) which was considered as a draconian law for the bad drafting and equally bad usage of the same by the government. The Supreme Court could have strongly advised for amending the provision which could offer a wonder anti bullying law.[2] But the last stroke was given by the then UP government by arresting a juvenile for his post on internet just before the court could even consider on 66A. The court laid 66A to rest judicially. What lurked on was the issue of usage of government logo in criticism speech.

Why Attorney General of India has to give a consent for contempt of court proceeding for a criticizing speech?  Armed by Shreya SInghal judgement in 2015, many started openly criticizing the government. This is indeed a healthy sign of a strong democracy. In the US the right to criticize the government had remained a celebrated right. Cases like New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 283 (1964) or  Bantam Books, Inc. v. Sullivan, 372 U.S. 58, 70 (1963) has deeply influenced the speech rights which have been taken over by the internet companies including Facebook and Twitter post millennium. First Amendment right to speech and expression became broader over the years giving the internet companies extreme power to deny most of the (non- US) government-backed requests for taking down of contents because according to them such speech did  not violate their policies which were based on US First Amendment guarantees.[3] Twitter however had remained a favorite platform for celebrities, right activists and politicians to express their opinion ‘in short’. This gave rise to use creative, expressive and bold languages to express opinions within 120 words plus ‘threads’. In late September and early November, 2020, social media platforms including Twitter saw a wave of sympathy, hatred and apathy towards the arrest of Arnab Goswamy and his release from the prison on interim bail by the Supreme Court. Goswamy, a journalist and managing director and editor-in –chief of Republic TV, was arrested for alleged abetment for suicide of a Mumbai based designer and his mother.[4] Kunal Kamra, a standup comedian, like many other non-supporters of Goswami had strongly objected for the interim bail of Goswami over Twitter.[5] But this could have been considered as a very normal ‘protest’ by Kamra, provided he would not have pulled in the integrity of Supreme Court of India. His post included a picture of the Supreme Court building covered with saffron color with the flag of the ruling BJP party atop it.  What was wrong in this? (i) Using derogatory remarks towards the integrity and impartial nature of the supreme court while deciding the interim bail application of Goswami ? or (ii) using the picture of the Supreme Court colored in saffron which may indicate its loyalty to a particular community, political party or idealism? Or (iii) morphing the picture of the building by putting the political party’s flag atop the building instead of the tricolor?  

If we take point number (i), we would see that even though the Supreme Court is not a protected entity which should be considered as above free speech especially related to criticism, it has taken strong note against those who had published, posted, uploaded, shared derogatory comments on the integrity of the institution, the judges, personal reputation of the judges and their family members. Justice Karnan’s case is a good example in this regard. This ex-judge of Madras High court was condemned not only by Madras High court, but also by several women lawyer’s associations in India  for sharing sexually explicit and obscene remarks about the female judges and the wives of other judges.[6] The Madras High Court had also asked the social media platforms to remove the contents posted by justice Karnan in this regard. Second and third points definitely attract my attention here as the morphing of the building attracts penal provisions not only from Article 19 (2) of the Constitution of India, which discusses about restriction of free speech under Indian constitution, but also from The Emblems And Names (Prevention Of Improper Use) Act, 1950. The later statute in S. 3 prohibits improper use of certain names and ensembles[7] and this includes emblem and picture of Supreme Court building as well.[8] But we need to note that even though the morphing and re presentation of the building had taken place on Twitter, Information Technology Act, 2000 (amended in 2008) may not be attracted that effectively because of the absence of S.66A .  The issue of Kamra publishing the ‘wrong’ image of Supreme Court is so heavy that it has attracted charges for criminal contempt of court for which the Attorney General of India has consented for initiating the proceedings against Kamra.[9] To a certain extent, this consent may depend on the discretionary power of the Attorney General as well especially when he sees the matter from the perspective of utter disrespect to the institution of Supreme Court. Kamra however maintained that he won’t apologies, neither would he remove his content from Twitter in this regard.[10]

          Here, I cannot hold myself back from mentioning about the plight of millions of women victims of trolling, morphing and revenge porn who may suffer endlessly because of long life of their fake avatars on internet. If only courts and civil society members were much aware about the issue, courts could have taken a strong note of cyber victimization of women as well. But here comes the key player: the web platform.

Twitter in the middle of the storm: Twitter is the platform for the alleged offence committed by Kamra. But quite simultaneously Twitter attracted another ref eye of the government and the courts: Leh, the joint capital of Union territory of Ladakh was recently shown as part of Jammu and Kashmir on Twitter.[11] This indeed attracts a huge public, political and constitutional sentiments after the recent scrapping of Article 370 by the present government of India which made Ladakh (of which Leh is the capital town) a union territory and no more part of Jammu and Kashmir. Twitter was notified and as the existing laws mandate, Twitter may even get suspended if it does not rectify the mistake. But not to forget, including Twitter all the US based social media companies have a wonderful trick to avoid the government and court notices by indicating that ‘they are looking into the matter’. There are hundreds of public interest litigations filed in the Supreme Court on the issue of women and child safety on internet and the responsibility of the internet companies. In almost all cases, all the companies escaped the clutches of S. 69 B (power to issue notice for blocking the website/contents etc) by the very slippery gateway of S.79 of the Information technology Act (exemption from liability of intermediary to certain cases).

Be it the case of Kunal Kamra or anyone else who may be victimizing anyone including private individuals or the highest courts of judicature, social media companies will remain as they have remained, being the chosen platform of the government to have a handle to encourage accessibility of justice, good governance etc.

Comes the decision of internet regulation by State made laws: Amidst all these pandemonium, the Indian government literally blew the bugle against millions of free speech activists when it announced about the decision for internet regulation by state made laws.[12] The ministry of Information and Broad casting may extend their jurisdiction to internet media if this decision is fructified. The free speech advocates fear that this decision may result in situations like the 1975-77 emergency period where the then prime minister tried to gag the free speech and expression rights of print and television media. Their apprehension is not baseless because this decision comes at a time when police is seen busy to manage issues related several fake news and fake avatars of the ruling and opposition political parties and net streaming which speak about sex .  But this decision, if fructified, may also bring cheers to women victims of misogynist trolls, fake avatar, revenge porn, nonconsensual porn as well.  While many may fear that such regulation may chock free flowing of adult contents, we must not forget that our courts once refused to provide a blanket ban on porn provided it is viewed by the viewer without offending anyone and the content is made legally with consenting adult actors. However the fear and apprehension weighs more than the cheers because the government may not always abide by the court rulings: the best example is, statutorily S.66A is in deep coma, but not dead.

Hope continues for women victims? But the tussle over the moral wrong of ‘to watch or to block the entire content’ or the heavy examples set by Attorney General of India for a morphed photograph of the building of Supreme Court and derogatory comments about the institution itself probably cannot minimize online victimization of women who undergo morphing and are targeted with hate speech on internet vigorously. I hope such strong actions touch the issue of cyber victimization of women and girls strongly. If internet is to be regulated, let it be so judiciously and for proper causes.

[1] See for more in https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/double-the-compensation-of-jadavpur-professor-arrested-for-circulating-mamata-cartoons-court-tells-g-745593

[2] Halder, Debarati, A Retrospective Analysis of Section 66A: Could Section 66A of the Information Technology Act be Reconsidered for Regulating ‘Bad Talk’ in the Internet? (August 24, 2015). Halder Debarati (2015) A RETROSPECTIVE ANALYSIS OF SECTION 66 A: COULD SECTION 66 A OF THE INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY ACT BE RECONSIDERED FOR REGULATING “BAD TALK” IN THE INTERNET? Published in Indian Student Law Review (ISLR) 2015 (1) PP 99-128 ISSN 2249-4391, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2650239 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2650239

[3] For example, see https://in.reuters.com/article/us-singapore-politics-malaysia-scandal/facebook-refuses-singapore-request-to-remove-post-after-critical-website-blocked-idINKCN1NF05T, orhttps://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-hate-speech-india-politics-muslim-hindu-modi-zuckerberg-11597423346  

[4] https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/arnab-goswami-arrested-for-allegedly-abetting-suicide-of-interior-designer-say-police-news-agency-pti-2320301

[5] https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/dont-intend-to-retract-my-tweets-or-apologize-kunal-kamra-responds-to-ags-consent-for-contempt-against-him-165857

[6] See https://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/chennai/2020/nov/10/madras-high-court-orders-removal-of-derogatory-videos-made-by-former-hc-judge-cs-karnan-2221987.html

[7] S.3 of  The Emblems And Names (Prevention Of Improper Use) Act, 1950 states as follows: 3. Prohibition of improper use of certain emblems and names.—Notwithstanding anything

contained in any law for the time being in force, no person shall, except in such cases and under such

conditions as may be prescribed by the Central Government, use or continue to use, for the purpose of any

trade, business, calling or profession, or in the title of any patent, or in any trade mark or design, any

name or emblem specified in the Schedule or any colourable imitation thereof without the previous

permission of the Central Government or such officer of Government as may be authorised in this behalf

by the Central Government.

[8] See S.17 of the Schedule attached to The Emblems And Names (Prevention Of Improper Use) Act, 1950 , which includes the followings in the prohibited list: namely, “The name of the Parliament or the Legislature of any State, or the Supreme Court, or the High Court of any State, or the Central Secretariat, or the Secretariat of any State Government or any other Government Office or the pictorial representation of any building occupied by any of the aforesaid institutions”.

[9]See  https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/dont-intend-to-retract-my-tweets-or-apologize-kunal-kamra-responds-to-ags-consent-for-contempt-against-him-165857

[10] See ibid

[11] See https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/twitter-risks-suspension-over-leh-map-error/articleshow/79201328.cms

[12] See https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/11/india-to-regulate-netflix-and-amazon-streaming-content?fbclid=IwAR11PXTEutFHo6VjsPy7tteOFyRweprK6vALKMNtNpBQZEF5tAeLIQyJejw

Please do not violate the copyright of this writeup. Please cite it as Halder Debarati (2020).Arnab Goswami, Kunal  Kamra and internet governance in India: where do women victims of cybercrimes  stand now? published in Gender & Internet : web magazine for cyber law for women @ https://internetlegalstudies.com/2020/11/14/arnab-goswami-kunal-kamra-and-internet-governance-in-india-where-do-women-victims-of-cybercrimes-stand-now-by-dr-debarati-halder/ on 14th November, 2020

66A on the judgement day


When you read about S.66A of the Information technology Act, 2000(inserted through amended Act, 2008), the first thing you may note is its broad scope on censoring freedom of speech.  The provision is named as “punishment for sending offensive messages through communication services etc.” I had been an ardent fan of it since it came into effect in 2008 especially because it promised to prohibit harassment, threatening, defamation (call whatever name you wish to) not only against all netizens, but especially against women. in 2008 India did not see Nirbhaya uproar, which finally gave birth to some meaningful laws including anti-stalking (which included cyber stalking) law in the form of S.354D of the Indian Penal Code. India neither had Protection of women from sexual harassment at work place Act, which was ‘born’ in 2013. This law while grouping certain behaviours as ‘penal’, also included conveying of harassing messages through emails or other communication services as offensive behaviour. Most notable of the present laws which penalises sending offensive messages through communication services is obviously the protection of children from sexual offences Act, 2012. Each time I go through these provisions, I find the shadow of S.66A. Consider the first category of offensive message that has been laid down by 66A: “any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character”, send by ‘any person’ send by computer resource or communication device.  While this has attracted most of the controversies and has created shock waves for those who oppose S.66A, the second categorisation is contrarily more focussed. It categorises “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 makes by making use of such computer resource or a communication device” as offensive communication, liable to be penalised.  I call it ‘more focussed’ because it has mentioned certain human emotions which can be triggered due to sending of particular messages and which the sender sends with particular malicious purposes. But still, this categorisation also attracted controversies due to linguistically twisted presentation of the provision. The third and the last categorisation of offensive messages create even more ‘shock’: it includes “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”. This is not the repetition of the earlier paragraphs or categorisation, but it is actually for broadening the scope of 66A to mail or messages  and not just only ‘information’.  People who oppose 66A, take up the defence of its almost open-ended scope which can involve anything and everything as offensive speech.  Since the internet has offered anonimity or no initial policing by the service providers  while generating the message, sects of people have started to use internet as a platform to express their opinion. One of the very first oppositions for 66A came up when  Aseem Trivedi , the political cartoonist was nabbed by the crime branch for his politically satirist cartoons depicting anti-corruption movement in early 2012; soon it followed by more oppositions due to the arrest of Palghar girls Shaheen Dhada  and her friend for their post in Facebook on Mumbai shutdown on the occasion of the death of Balasaheb  Thakre.  Needless to say, such arrests were made by the police on the instigation of political people who took full liberty to (mis)use 66A for curtailing the freedom of speech of common individuals. The latest being the arrest of a school boy on the alleged post targeting another political big shot in Uttarpradesh. Unfortunately 66A always found a slippery way in the hands of police who were ‘instigated’ by some people who wished to take the law in their hands in literal meaning. Added with it, s.66A being a provision which proscribes punishment which may extend to three years, also attracts the issues of cognizance and bailability. S.77B says any offence which is punishable with three years imprisonment or more, is a cognizable offence and bailable. It becomes an obvious fact that if and when any one intends to misuse the law, may use the penal objective of the same with fullest meaning so that the ‘accused’ gets a life time lesson. This is exactly what happens each time 66A is used for curtailing free speech especially in cases of opinions regarding political matters or consumer matters.  I say this, because these arrests were also challenged by Markendeya Katzu, who was a former Supreme Court judge.
But 66A also offers a wonderful safeguard against defamation and other harassment if it is read properly. Consider Article 19(2) of the Indian constitution which lays down reasonable restrictions for freedom of speech.  I see 66A in that light shredding those ambiguous categorisations. it is accepted that 66A lacks clear definitions which is extremely important for any restrictive law. But needless to say, we still do not have any provision to regulate online bullying, trolling or even harassment to women by way of insulting posts. S.509 of the Indian Penal Code may fulfil the gap since it punishes any word, gesture etc to insult the modesty of women. But again, when applying 509, many women may face the problem of ‘what is modesty’ types of questions by the police itself. I have known many victims who have been blamed by the police on this very basis.  Police still depends upon related laws to book the offender and many a times the case becomes extremely complicated due to misunderstanding of the issues. 66A may provide a wonderful solace in such cases.  But still, 66A has been used in many cases of harassment of women in the internet and it proved fruitful as well.
When I write this blog, I understand that within a few minutes or a couple of hours, the Supreme court of India may take its landmark decision on 66A on the grounds thus presented by the defenders and supporters of 66A.  I remember seeing a very meaningful observation in Twitter by none other than Pavan Duggal who mentioned that scrapping of 66A would not serve the purpose. I am an ardent fan of 66A and I would continue to support restrictive laws such as this one(off course when it is read and used in positive lights) if at all Supreme Court  shows lenience towards 66A’s opponents.  I really wish that 66A comes back, but not in its old form. It should be re-born with clear language and purposes.  66A may then mother many other laws which may be beneficial to not only women and children, but also groups of persons including racial minority, gender minority etc.

Wish you good luck 66A!
Please Note: Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use informations provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2015), “66A on the judgement day” 24th March, 2015, published in http://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.com/

The police and S.66A again……


It is time for politicians and their civilian aides to brush up the war of words again; the general election knocks at the door and everyone is up to exercise the Rights that actually pillar the core philosophy of democracy. In this course, many Right to free speech chilling laws get tested and the independence of the judiciary is proved again and again. The time has come back with yet another law, S.66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000(amended in 2008), which restricts sending offending messages through communication devices in India. This time it is a woman lawyer and human rights activist who is caught in the web world for her exercise of free speech rights under S.66A. While The Hindureported that the accused activist had been sent a legal notice by the complainant and she had also replied to it, I could not ascertain from the news reports whether this accused was given any further chance to prove herself not guilty, as she was reportedly arrested on a police complaint on the same ground by the complainant and sent to judicial custody (See S.Murali, FB posting on T.N.  Governor lands PUCL activist in custody (May14, 2013). Published in The Hindu, pg 1). It is unfortunate to note that this is the same provision which  has been used to arrest the person who had used apparently ‘offensive’, ‘derogatory’ remarks about politicians; the first reported case being  that of a Professor in Kolkata for allegedly distributing cartoons ridiculing  West Bengal chief minister, the second being the case of Palghar girls Facebook case, the third being the case of arrest of  two  Air India employees for their alleged derogatory posts about politicians including the Prime minister of India, the fourth being the case of Twitter posts by a Pondicherry based individual commenting about politician and union minister P. Chidambaram’s son ( see for chronology India’s dilemma continues as highlighted by Subhajit Basu. http://works.bepress.com/subhajitbasu/76/) . Supporters of Free speech demanded the amendment of S.66A due to such thought less misuse of the provision. But at the same time, it has also been understood that the law has some potentials to restrict offensive, unwanted, derogatory speech when it comes harassment of true victims, especially women. I am one of the supporters of S.66A due to it’s this very quality. But consider the statement of the Twitter post accused Ravi, who argued “they could have sent me lawyer’s notice or investigated the complaint before taking action” (see PrasadKrishna, Post and be Damned (Nov 19, 2012), published in http://cis-india.org/news/telegraphindia-opinion-story-kavitha-shanmugham-nov-14-2012-post-and-be-damned). This statement holds the key to quiz the action of the complainants who drove the police to take action in all these cases. S. 66A in its starting phrase in clause (b) puts a water-mark caution by stating that “any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing….”; the provision thus clearly shifts the burden of proof on the person who posts the information and by this the ‘sender’ becomes protected by due process of law. Time and again, this important factor in the apparently controversial S.66A has been over looked by those who wished to use the State to gag the right to free speech without following proper process established by legal rules. Unfortunately, such persons had been successful due to their heavily influential positions and less aware police force. This has been proved in the Palghar Facebook case (see http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-11-19/india/35204312_1_arrest-state-bandh-prithviraj-chavanhttp://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-11-19/india/35204312_1_arrest-state-bandh-prithviraj-chavan).
It is ironical to note the common man’s observation in this regard; in the comment section of the NDTV news website(see http://www.ndtv.com/article/south/woman-human-rights-officer-arrested-for-posting-objectionable-content-on-facebook-account-366280?pfrom=home-lateststories) where this report is published, many persons have expressed their anguish over how the police and the law are up to help the politicians and not the ordinary civilians who may become victims of harassing, abusive, defamatory posts. True!  Such quick reaction from the police is still a distant dream for many victims, majority of who are women. It is further ironical to note that while instantly the posts in the above cases are taken down or the concerned social media are contacted to take down the offensive information, many women victims in actual on-line defamatory cases continue to languish due to slow process of investigation. It needs to be remembered that Police should be used as a machinery to prevent imminent danger to really needy victims and not as a tool to stop the due process of laws by those who can afford to roll it. Understandably costs of hiring a lawyer and sending notice to the alleged harasser may not be affordable for many women who may be financially dependent  on the male members of the family ( I observed this in my presentation in Sweden Criminology Symposium in 2012. The excerpts of my findings are compiled by Johanna Hagstedt, in “Risk behaviours increase exposure to cyber crime” (October 5, 2012) Available @ http://www.criminologysymposium.com/symposium/event-information/2012/archive/news/2012-10-05-risk-behaviours-increase-exposure-to-cyber-crime.html). This makes the police the last hope for the victims. Let us hope that the supremacy of the fair process of laws is established again and the society understands the actual role of the police.
Please Note: Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use informations provided in this blog for your own assignment/write-up/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2013), “The police and S.66A again……” 14th May, 2013, published in http://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.com/