The Information Technology Act: An Effective Way to Prevent Obscene Content?

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The Information and Technology Act, 2000 recognizes electronic means of transactions. In recent times, there is an increase in the circulation of offensive material. Especially through online means. Thus, the provisions of the Act play an important role.

Provisions

The Information Technology Act provides regulation for the sharing of information online. The initial aim of the statue was to control electronic commerce. However, it also consists of provisions against the sharing of offensive material. Some of these provisions are – Sections 67,67A, 67B, 67C and 69A.

Section 67

Section 67 provides for punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material. This is usually in the electronic form. In addition to this, the provision deals with the posting of any obscene or defamatory content. Under Section 67, the term ‘obscene’ has been questioned time and again.

The definition is like that formulated in the ‘Hicklin’s Test’, decided in the case of Regina v Hicklin. ‘Obscene’ means any content which a ‘reasonable man’ believes will corrupt public morals. If the material is likely to deprave or corrupt the reader, Section 67 of the Act will apply. The penalties imposed under this provision include two classifications:

– On the first conviction, the penalty is imprisonment for a term which may extend up to three years. Or an imposition of a fine up to Rs Five Lakhs, or both.

– On the second or any later conviction, the penalty is imprisonment for a term of up to seven years. Or an imposition of a fine up to Rs Ten Lakhs, or both.

Section 67A

Section 67A provides punishment for publishing material containing a sexually explicit act. This is in the electronic form. The provision deals with material that is sexually explicit and inappropriate. The penalties imposed under the section consist of imprisonment for a term of up to seven years. It also includes a fine that may extend up to Rs Ten Lakh.

Section 67B

Section 67B deals with punishment for publishing material depicting sexually explicit acts. But this provision deals with sexually explicit acts of children in electronic form. The provision is instrumental in the protection of children. Further, it serves as an extension of Section 67A.

The penalty under this provision is imprisonment for a term of up to five years. This may extend to ten lakh rupees, or both.

Section 69A

Section 69A provides the power to issue directions for blocking public access. This blocked access is for any information received through a computer resource. Under this provision, the Central Government has the power to block any content. In this case, any content that it finds threatening for the security of the country.

Section 69A of the Act deals with materials that may affect the nation negatively. It can affect the sovereignty, integrity, or defence of the Country. The Central Government may order an agency of the Government to block the material. In the case of disobedience by an intermediary, the penalty imposed is imprisonment up to 7 years, or a fine or both.

Additionally, Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 also applies above. Section 292 talks about any person who publicly circulates or exhibits obscene materials.

Cartoon of Tamil Nadu MP

The police detained cartoonist Varma. He had made a cartoon of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) President Thol. Thirumavalavan. Social media including Twitter had the cartoon on its platforms.

It was reported to be offensive towards the Minister. A case was booked against him under Section 67 of the Information Technology Act. In addition to this, other Sections charged included Sections 504 and 505 of the Indian Penal Code.

Tik Tok Videos

On May 18, the National Commission for Women addressed a letter to the DGP of Maharashtra. The letter demanded action against Tik Tok star Faizal Siddiqui.

In the letter, the commission has accused him of posting a video ‘promoting’ acid attacks on women. Post the release of the video, there were concerns raised amongst the masses. It hindered with the safety of women from acid attacks. The Commission requested an immediate action under the Information Technology Act.

Section 66A

The Section provided for “Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc”. The provision defines the punishment for sending offensive messages through a computer. The penalty under the section is imprisonment up to three years or a fine or both.

In the landmark judgment of Shreya Singhal v Union of India, passed on March 24, 2015, Section 66A was struck down. The Supreme Court held that the provision falls outside the scope of Article 19 (a). Hence declared it as unconstitutional.

As per the judgment, making arrests under the provision is prohibited. But complaints have been filed under Section 66A as recently as in the year 2019. In the absence of Section 66A, the focus of most of such complaints is now Section 67.

Conclusion

In today’s day and age, the cyberspace witness offences on a daily basis. However, there is also an increase in the curbing of freedom of speech and expression. Unnecessary labelling of certain content as offensive is problematic.

Thus, it is of extreme importance that there be a balance. A balance between encouraging free speech and the protection of citizens. The internet and technology are expanding every minute. We will have to bring about appropriate regulation.


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