In what is a rather worrying development, the Tamil Nadu government has announced that it will make amendments to its existing Goondas Act to include cyber crimes, reports TheHindu. Why is this worrying? After the amendment, offenders will face detention and those put behind bars under this provision can’t obtain bail for a year.
Currently, the Goondas Act includes prevention of dangerous activities of bootleggers, drug offenders, forest offenders, goondas, immoral traffic offenders, sand offenders, slum grabbers and video pirates act, 1982. The Goondas act can be invoked for habitual offenders. Once the amendments are made it can be invoked even for first time offenders or a single offence that has the propensity to disturb public peace, according to a report by NDTV.
The nature of of cyber crimes that will warrant detention under the Act has not been defined yet, but any offence or offences targeting a larger segment of innocent people with intent to commit fraud or endanger their safety would be considered serious enough for detention under the Goondas Act.
The propensity of the Central Government has so far has been to put in provisions that curtail freedom of speech, and allow law enforcement to jail citizens for statements that they find offensive. This has led to much criticism (including from us), and it’s interesting that this move by the Tamil Nadu government comes at a time when the home ministry and IT department are reportedly working on softening the IT Act with graded responses for cyber crimes involving teens and first-time offenders. The report stated that a graded response involving a warning, and parental guidance for first-time offenders will be invoked instead of a penal action, straight away under the Information Technology Act. In addition, to prevent misuse, the Indian government had issued guidelines that state that approval from an officer of DCP level in the rural areas and of IG level in the metros will have to be taken before registering complaints under Section 66 (A) of the IT Act.
The Tamil Nadu government can amend the Goondas Act, however, it needs to take care that the Act does not come out to be ambiguous enough that people would misuse it. It remains to be seen how the state government will deal with it: why they should be non-bailable is beyond us.
Other developments: Recently, the Chennai City Police had arrested and detained two people for harassing singer Chinmayi Sripada on Twitter. Chandigarh’s Henna Bakshi and Kamalpreet Singh were booked under the IT Act for posting abusive messages on the Union Territory traffic police’s Facebook page. Under the IT act, the charges levelled against her are non-bailable and she could be seen serving a jail time of three years.
Two Air India employees, Mayank Mohan Sharma and KVJ Rao, were arrested in May this year by the cyber crime cell of the Mumbai police for a Facebook post. Sharma and Rao had allegedly posted lewd jokes about politicians, made derogatory comments against the Prime Minister and insulted the national flag in their Facebook posts.
Shaheen Dhada and Renu Srinivasan, from Palghar were arrested under Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code for posting an anti-bandh update on Facebook. The girls were granted a bail after depositing a Rs 15,000 bond. On November 29, police dropped the case against Shaheen Dhada and Renu Srinivasan.