Are tougher laws the answer to check online abuse?
The Kerala government has decided to withdraw an Ordinance after facing huge criticism. This ordinance gives unbridled powers to the police to arrest anyone expressing or disseminating any matter that it deems defamatory. However, the move to introduce such a law in the first place shows that State governments believe that existing laws are not adequate to deal with social media abuse.
Why Kerala Government passed such a law?
In 2015, the Supreme Court had struck down Section 66A of The Information Technology Act, which was being used by police to arrest people on charges of posting objectionable content on the Internet. The top court had also nullified Section 118(D) of the Kerala Police Act, ruling it infringed on the freedom of speech.
The cabinet noted that the central government had not so far brought in legislation to replace the revoked sections, which had left the police hamstrung in effectively dealing with social media abuse and cyber crime.
Laws dealing with it
a)Indian Penal Code
It criminalizes obscene speech, defamatory words, that insults woman’s modesty and interferes with her privacy.
It punishes anonymous criminal intimidation, it punishes voyeurism, it punishes digitally enabled stalking, hate speech, and even non-consensual sharing of sexual images online.
b)Information Technology Act of 2000
Information Technology Act of 2000 that punishes speech that is obscene.
The IT Act also places obligations on intermediaries, where intermediaries have a duty of due diligence; they have to take down content based on a request by the government or a court order.
This obligation is actually very broadly worded — any information that is grossly harmful, harassing, blasphemous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, libellous, invasive of another’s privacy, hateful, or racially or ethnically objectionable, disparaging, etc.
Measures taken in absence of legislative structure
Courts and governments have largely resorted to blocking content or forcing intermediaries to take steps to limit the spread of illegal content.
For example, how the Madras High Court threatened to ban Tik Tok because it was supposedly enabling the circulation of obscene content.
The government from time to time issues directions, as has happened in the context of Whats App, where they have been asked to take certain steps pertaining to illegal content on their platform.
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