The Karnataka Police recently issued a warning to citizens of Belgaum in North Karnataka informing them that uploading, modifying, resending and liking malicious or misleading images, videos and messages through any medium with an intention of hurting religious sentiments knowingly or unknowingly is a punishable offence under sections 66A of the Information Technology Act and 153A, 295 of the Indian Penal Code. (Hat Tip: Swar Thounaojam)
In June this year Mumbai Police had issued a similar warning to citizens directing them to not ‘like’ objectionable posts on Facebook. Mumbai Police told that the people would be booked under section 66A of the IT Act and section 295A of Indian Penal Code, which deals with ‘hurting religious sentiments’, in such cases.
Last week the Karnataka Government passed a legislature, which allows the authorities to arrest a person even before he/she has committed an offence under the IT Act. The Karnataka Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Drug-offenders, Gamblers, Goondas, Immoral Traffic Offenders, Slum-Grabbers and Video or Audio Pirates (Amendment) Bill, 2014, which has been dubbed the Goonda Act has brought offences under the IT Act 2000 and the Indian Copyright Act 1957 under its ambit, reports Bangalore Mirror.
This Act was originally meant to enable authorities to take bootleggers, drug offenders and traffickers into preventive custody. Post the amendment digital offenders can also be arrested without actually having committed any crime. So, effectively even if you are planning to forward an ‘objectionable’ meme on WhatsApp or forward a copyright protected e-book to a friend you can be arrested under this Act. What’s even more worrying is that under this Act the arrested person doesn’t have to be produced before a magistrate for 90 days, which can be extended to a maximum of one year. In case of the IT Act the arrested person needs to be presented before a magistrate in 24 hours.
The Goonda Act’s definition of a digital offender is, “any person who knowingly or deliberately violates, for commercial purposes, any copyright law in relation to any book, music, film, software, artistic or scientific work and also includes any person who illegally enters through the identity of another user and illegally uses any computer or digital network for pecuniary gain for himself or any other person or commits any of the offences specified under sections 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74 and 75 of the Information Technology Act, 2000.”
The key issue here is determining intention. How will this Act differentiate between individuals with malicious, criminal intent, and those who are at most ignorant? In the past individuals have been arrested for merely liking a Facebook post. Now similar arrests can be carried out with legislative backing. It will ultimately further impede the voice of dissent in the country.