Section 66A: Don't let the government censor social media

Using the garb of protecting religious sentiments, this could be the beginning of the government monitoring every word I post and hold it against me.

 |  3-minute read |   03-03-2015
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Many years ago, there was an industry in India that was silently born, far away from Delhi and its influences, that grew and flourished under the government’s nose without any whiplash. Incidentally, this industry placed India on the world map. It wasn’t that the government would have ignored any chances of interference. To the sector’s fortune, the government just didn’t have enough understanding of the sector and hence the related laws and its loopholes. That’s the story of the information technology sector. But it seems, a lot has come to pass since then and the government, in its more technology savvy avatar, is now trying to dig its teeth into the extensions of the IT sector, especially social media. Of late, the Centre wants to increase the level of surveillance on social platforms.

The NDA-led government has recently suggested to the Supreme Court to invoke Section 66A of the IT Act to control the expanding span of social media. For the uninitiated, Section 66A suggests that an offensive message/post/status is a punishable offence, leading to a three year jail term. What it clearly does not specify is the definition of the word offensive. The matter gets further convoluted when viewed in the context of social media where the word "offensive" is even more vague and highly subjective. The government has advocated controls under the guise of protecting religious sentiments against objectionable pictures and comments being posted on social media. It is recommending round-the-clock surveillance.

That brings us to the sizzling debate for the day : “Does social media really need surveillance?”

The biggest irony is that the matter of this censorship has also started playing in the hands of the politics of the day. Back in 2012, Narendra Modi, the then CM of Gujarat, changed his Twitter display picture to black to protest internet censorship. Celebrities, protesters and many politicians across the world joined hands in a bid to protest for their very basic human right - Freedom of Speech.

With right to freedom involved on both sides – for those posting the stuff and the subjects of the posts – this one is a tight rope to walk. It is the battle between “My right to be myself” and the “Right to Protect the dignity of individuals/brands/religions and much more”.

Do we require a law to keep the nuisance makers, the miscreants, maybe the naysayers as well, at bay? Using the garb of protecting religious sentiments, this could be the beginning of the government monitoring every word I post and hold it against me in the court of law. After all, tapping of individual phones and holding the information so procured against the user is not unknown in India.

All I know is, if the Indian Big Brother gets a legal claim to my personal opinion, social media will die a silent death. Ultimately, the Indian Constitution's marquee feature - Freedom of Opinion and Expression will be compromised.

God forbid someone put social media censorship in the government’s mind.

Writer

Nishant Nayyar Nishant Nayyar @nishantnyr

Writes on gadgets, automobiles, music and food! Swears by sushi and bacon!

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