Hateful content under watch: Govt to amend IPC to take on anti-social elements


The government is working on a proposal to amend the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to include amendments dealing with, among other issues, providing effective legal provisions for law enforcement agencies to take action against anti-social elements who spread hateful and malicious content on social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. After the Supreme Court, in March 2015, held Section 66A (dealing with punishment for sending offensive or unlawful messages through communication services, etc) invalid, the ministry of home affairs (MHA) formed a committee under former law secretary TK Vishwanathan to provide recommendations on establishing a strong regulatory and legal framework for tackling cyber crimes. The panel has already submitted its report. A senior government official said MHA is working on a proposal to amend the IPC to include provisions for dealing with propagation of fake news and provocative content on social media platforms with the intention of causing violence or spreading hatred. So there are recommendations on checking abusive or malicious content being spread on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, community, gender, sexual orientation, etc, on the Internet, he added. Another government official said MHA is working on adding legal avenues in the IPC to check fake content that is highly disparaging, indecent, abusive, inflammatory, false or grossly offensive information and which is spread with the intention of causing fear or alarm. This includes gravely threatening or derogatory information being spread to provoke violence or spread hatred or incite people to commit violence or an offence. This is being done so that law enforcement agencies can effectively tackle cyber crimes, while ensuring that the common citizen is not hounded. It is also working on creating a roadmap for developing competence and expertise on cyber laws from the point of investigation, prosecution and judicial intervention. MHA is working on the amendments, but this will now be taken up only after the new government is formed in May this year, he added. On the need for such amendments, the official said one needs to understand that cyber space is a complex environment of people, software, hardware and services on the internet. Now with this space being borderless, coupled with the communication being instant and anonymous, the potential for circulating malicious or fake content is huge. Hence there is a need for having legal provision for authorities to swiftly tackle such issues. According to Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), a total of 44,679, 49,455, 50,362, 53,117 and 2,08,456 cyber security incidents, including phishing, network scanning and probing, virus or malicious code and website hacking, were reported during 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, respectively.

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