For better signage on the cyber highway
If you are reading this article, you have in all likelihood committed a crime. According to Indian law — specifically, Section 66A of the amended Information Technology Act — you could be facing a fine and a prison sentence of up to three years for having sent “by means of a computer resource or communication device” information that is “grossly offensive or has menacing character” or information you know “to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will.”
The IT Act’s vagueness and comprehensiveness are troubling at many levels. Instances of Section 66A’s use have been infrequent but arbitrary. Several prominent examples date from 2012, such as a Jadavpur University professor arrested for disseminating a cartoon of Ms. Mamata Banerjee, a businessman in Puducherry charged for a supposedly offensive tweet against a politician, and the arrest of two young women in Maharashtra over comments related to Bal Thackeray’s funeral. Last year, the IT Cell of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) compared the ostensibly draconian nature of Section 66A to the Emergency, with several leaders urging that it be amended or watered down.
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Dhruva Jaishankar is a transatlantic fellow with GMF's Asia Program.