IIPM & Blocked URL's - with 66a what did you expect?
- This piece is originally published on blog.tehelka.com
This is section 66a of the IT Act :
Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc..- Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,-
66A. Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc.
Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,
(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or
(b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device,
(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages,
shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.
66a - This poorly thought through, open ended piece of legislation has been used to stifle any criticism, by people with a God complex, with more power than sense.
Karthi Chidambaram used it to get a tweeter arrested; Aseem Trivedi was arrested under this Act;Two girls from Palghar were charged under this Act after a Facebook update; Ambikesh Mohapatra, of Jadhavpur University was not only beaten up by TMC workers, but also charged under 66a for circulating a cartoon on Mamata Banerjee; The Government of India, through the Ministry for IT and Communications and Minister Kapil Sibal, blocked twitter handles, Facebooks pages and blogposts, claiming that these posts lead to communal violence and rioting. And, these are just the high profile cases that are discussed in Main Stream Media. There may be more that is not even in the public gaze.
In a vibrant diverse democracy, which we claim to be, the right to offend needs to be protected. There are just too many sacred cows, and too many sensitive feelings that get offended, that will use laws like this to stifle any and all dissent. And that is one of the reasons why this law is singularly dangerous not just for democracy but also for the individual citizen.
Yesterday, 66 A was taken one step further. Medianama reported that the educational company IIPM had got a judge in Gwalior to order the DoT to block 73 URLs that were critical of IIPM, it claims, and evaluations of the courses that it offers students. Amongst the URLs that were blocked was the University Grants Commission URL that told students that IIPM was neither a University nor was it authorized to offer degrees.
The Judiciary of India, ordered one Government Department to block the URL of another Government department, for putting out a notice that is in the interest of fee paying students and their families, because a company that claims to provide a service was grossly offended. It is either that or IIPM believes that everyone is mounting a gigantic conspiracy to lie about the quality of the courses it offers. Not only that, the order got the DoT to block URLs of websites of various newspapers and magazines thereby trying to muzzle freedom of press. In both cases it was successful, because 66A allowed it the right to do so.
This is not the first time that IIPM has gone after the on-line community to muzzle criticism. However, this time around it has been aided by a singularly draconian piece of legislation that has no business being on the statute books of any civilized nation.
The next time you criticize your mobile service provider, or your educational institute, or post a review of a film that you thought was terrible, or complain about the service at a restaurant, or criticize the Government, draw a cartoon, share a ditty, post an update, question or question God or Gods, be careful, because Big Brother is watching. And hearing and recording and has proof of all digital content for all time. That Big Brother is 66 A.
Ultimately it is not about the megalomaniacs in our country, their delusions of grandeur and their over sensitivity about being criticized. it really is not. It is about a law that allows you to arrest college girls for a status update, and block URLs for telling the truth.It is a law which allows gross abuse of our fundamental rights. If people feel defamed, let themsue for defamation blocking of URLs either by the Government or by a private party reeks of insecurity.
66 A needs to go. Maybe it is time that we filed a case against the law under 66 a itself grossly offensive (to the freedom of expression) and a menacing character (to individuals who have the right to offend).