Why Supreme Court shouldn't have scrapped Section 66A
Instead of doing away with the law, it should have been amended to protect victims of cyber abuse.
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With its landmark judgment of striking down the Section 66A, Supreme Court has won India's heart again. Within minutes of the announcement, Twitter and Facebook squealed with excitement and showered heavy praise for the Supreme Court judges. However, amidst all the pandemonium, there are few aspects of the law, which have been forgotten.
There has been 350 per cent rise in registered cyber crimes in the past three years in India, as per the National Crime Records Bureau 2013 report. I spoke to Dr Debarati Halder, founder and managing director, Centre for Cyber Victims Counselling, an institution which deals and works with victims of cyber abuse. In response to the judgment she said "Though I am happy with the judgment, which will help uphold freedom of speech, but striking it down right away, will put many people at the risk of cyber bullying". During my conversation with her on Section 66A and related aspects, she mentioned that before scrapping it, there are three factors which need to be considered.
1. Understanding Section 66A in depth: If we consider the first category of offensive message that has been laid down by 66A: "Any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character" sent by "any person" through a computer resource or communication device. While this has attracted most of the controversies and has created shock waves for those who oppose Section 66A, the second categorisation is contrarily more focused. 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. The third and last categorisation of offensive messages is even more shocking.
It includes "any electronic mail or 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. Unfortunately, understanding and usage of these categorisations has been limited to just freedom of speech and been misused by politicians but it offers a wonderful safeguard against defamation and other harassment if implemented properly. Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution lays down some restrictions on freedom of speech but Section 66A is a law which sheds some ambiguous categorisations in that context.
2. No clear laws on cyber bullying: There are many victims who have been harassed through objectionable online content and the problem is that no law focuses specifically on victimisation. There is an anti-stalking law but no clearly defined laws for cyber bullying. Activist Kavita Krishnan and journalist Sagarika Ghose are regularly subjected to abuse by trolls on Twitter but unfortunately, no action is taken. Therefore, it is imperative to have some well-defined laws for cyber abuse, and hence starting with Section 66A would have been a good start.
3. Amendment rather than scrapping: Instead of scrapping the Section 66A, the law should be amended to protect victims of cyber abuse. Even LGBT people are abused and victimised with online content, hence, there needs to be advocacy for amending the law rather than doing away with it altogether. Though Supreme Court has given its judgment, I think it should consider further amendments in the law to protect cyber victims.
Evidently, scrapping of Section 66A is not the solution. Though the Supreme Court judgment is worth celebrating, it should only be a beginning and not the end.