New Delhi: The high-level committee formed to propose new laws or amendments to deal with hate speech on the Internet has submitted its report to the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The committee, headed by TK Viswanathan who served as director of ADR, ICADR and as secretary-general of the Lok Sabha, was formed after the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act.
Viswanathan, speaking exclusively to News18, said, “In the absence of 66A, women are being targeted with a lot of abuse and other humiliations and hate speech is very rampant. The recent report takes note of the growing menace.”
The report has suggested that Section 78 of the IT Act needs to be substituted and Section 153 and 505A of the IPC needs to be amended.
Viswanathan said that Section 78 primarily ‘dealt with capacity building’ and needs to be relooked at with a view to sensitize the officers.
“Section 78 of the Information Technology Act has capacity building and mainly there is no awareness among the law enforcement agencies. We wanted to sensitize all law enforcement agencies and we wanted to give them some support with electronic expertise, computer-forensics and digital-forensics about which these people are not aware.” he said.
“The amendment to the Section 78 of the IT Act and Section 505A of the Indian Penal Code is based on the Law Commission Report which talks about physical world hate speech. We have just tweaked it to suit the electronic means also,” he added.
The report relied on the 267th report of the Law Commission of India and international legislations.
“Throughout the world now hate speech is being handled by suitable amendments to the law. Germany has come out with a Network protection Act, New Zealand has the Harmful Publication Act, and hence we also have to deal with that. In the process we also tried to take support from the Law Commission report on hate speech. The report was published after Section 66A was struck down,” Viswanathan said.
Under Section 78 of the IT act, an inspector or above rank police officer is empowered to investigate offences. The committee has recommended that each state should have a State Cyber Crime Coordinator which should be an officer not below the rank of Inspector General of Police.
“Section 66A was too broad and the problem with our law enforcement agencies is that we don’t have a separate agency to deal with cybercrimes... In absence of the capacity building, I have suggested the formation of cybercrime coordinators to prevent abuse. In every district there will be a cybercrime coordinator and in every state there will be one too,” Viswanathan told News18.
“Police people are not aware of the sensitivities involved in the electronic medium which is used to register clients etc. and we cannot blame them as they are not technologically savvy. These are the issues we need to deal with before we come with more offences as we have to be careful that there may be abuse,” he added.
The committee has also suggested that each district to have a District Cyber Crime Cell headed by an officer not below the rank of Sub-Inspector of Police.
“New government entrants are more technologically savvy than their older counterparts. They will be able to handle it better and this will facilitate the work easier. Most of the crimes on electronic medium whether it be cellphone or credit card, etc. everything is now online and hence there is a need to sensitize the ones handling it and make them equipped to deal with it,” Viswanathan said.
Though Viswanathan agrees that striking down Section 66A of the IT Act was a correct step, he believes that presently we do not have any system in place to crackdown on menaces like the ‘Blue Whale Challenge.’
“To deal with games like Blue Whale Challenge, there needs to be education for both the child and the school. That is the best way to deal with such a thing and there is no means to address it by the way of a law. It’s very difficult for a law to be executed in this regard,” he said.
However, KN Chaturvedi, former secretary, legislative department, told News18 that he believes that this report is flawed as it ignored the election laws and its relation with hate speech.
“I have my doubts on the report submitted by Viswanathan. The amendment to Section 123 of the Representation of Peoples Act should have been amended too and the absence of this from the reports makes me think that the report is flawed,” he said.
“Hate speeches are rampant online during the election campaigns. Now the ministerial discussion at the Ministry of Home Affairs should look into this aspect and see a possibility of an amendment to Section 123 of the Representation of Peoples Act along with the proposed amendments to the Indian Penal Code and the Information Technology Act,” he added.
The 267th Law Commission report on hate speech had discussed Section 123 of the RPA and has even cited a case to show the linkage between Section 123 of RPA with Section 153 of the IPC.
“In Dr. Ramesh Yeshwant Prabhoo v. Shri Prabhakar Kashinath Kunte & Ors, the Court analysed the meaning of sub-section (3A) of section 123 of RPA, 1951 observing that the said provision is similar to section 153A, IPC as "the promotion of, or attempt to promote, feelings of enmity or hatred,” the report said.