Government to strengthen existing laws to curb offensive online speech
In 2015, the Supreme Court quashed Section 66(A) of the Information Technology Act, calling it "unconstitutional". The move to repeal 66(A), under which offensive online messages/comments was punishable, was hailed as a triumph of free speech. However, instead of modifying 66(A), much to the dismay of free speech defenders, the government now recommends strengthening IPC Sections 153A and 505 to control offensive online speech.
IPC Section 153A prohibits hate speech in any form. Under this section, any action or communication that causes disharmony, hatred, enmity, or feelings of ill-will among people attracts a punishment of up to three years in jail. Under Section 505, statements that lead to public mischief are punishable. Both sections are similar to IT Act's Section 66(A) except that they are non-bailable offenses.
The Section 66(A) states "any person who sends" offensive messages that are "false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will" by the means "of a computer resource or a communication device" is punishable. The punishment would be imprisonment for up to a term of three years with or without a fine.
In a meeting conducted by TK Vishwanathan-led Cyber Regulation Advisory Committee (CRAC), the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) recommended amending IPC Sections 153A and 505 would be effective than modifying IT Act's Section 66(A). MHA's recommendation, which indicated a possibility of increased censorship, was also backed by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. However, "heightened censorship" isn't what CRAC is aiming for.
Under Section 88 of the IT Act, in 2000, the CRAC was constituted for recommending to the government a roadmap of measures and amendments to existing laws. However, after 2001, the expert committee had conducted no meetings at all; so, CRAC was reconstituted in 2012. It was also assigned with the duty of finding ways to make Section 66(A) compatible with constitutional provisions.
Women and Child Development Ministry didn't support the idea of not amending Section 66(A). It said the section, which falls under a law framed to promote the IT industry, must be modified to allow preventive measures. It raised concerns about the cyber-security of women as well as children. It suggested responding to cyber crime cases in real-time so that offensive speech/content is summarily removed.