Expert Panel Tells Government to Amend Laws to Punish Online Hate Speech

The expert committee had been constituted in 2015 after the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the IT Act for being used arbitrarily and hampering free speech.

New Delhi: To tackle hate speech and the spread of hatred and incitement online, an expert committee constituted by the central government, has recommended that the Indian Penal Code (IPC), Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the Information Technology (IT) Act be amended to include strict provisions and specify punishment for such cases.

The committee, headed by former law secretary and Lok Sabha secretary general T. K. Viswanathan, submitted it’s report to the Union home ministry last week, reported the Indian Express. It had been constituted in 2015 after the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the IT Act. Sending offensive messages through a communication device to cause inconvenience was punishable under Section 66 of the IT Act.

“We decided there was no need to reintroduce Section 66A but we need to strengthen the IPC instead,” law commission member Dr S. Sivakumar told the Indian Express.

Amendments to IPC

The first recommendation that the committee has made deals with the prohibition of incitement to hatred online. It has suggested that IPC Section 153C be amended to include in communication “spoken or written words, signs, visible representation, information, audio, video or combination of both, transmitted, retransmitted through any telecommunication service, communication device or computer source.” The punishment it suggests for this is up to two years imprisonment or a fine of Rs 5,000 or both, according to the Indian Express.

The second recommendation is to amend Section 505A of the IPC to include the punishment of up to a year or a fine of Rs 5,000 or both of a person or group who intentionally use means of communications to case fear, alarm or provoke violence.

Amendment to CrPC, 1973

The committee also suggested an amendment to the CrPC 1973 – it recommended the creation of the post of a State Cyber Crime Coordinator and District Cyber Crime Cell.

Amendments to IT Act, 2000

It suggested that Section 78 be amended to allow a police officer not below the rank of sub inspector to investigate any offence under the IT Act.

Section 66A had provisions for police to make arrests based on their subjective discretion about what could be “offensive” and over time, this had been used to arrest a number of people including cartoonist, scholars and students.

A bench comprising Justices Rohinton F. Nariman and J. Chelameswar had in March 2015, struck down the “open-ended and unconstitutionally vague” section saying that it could and was being used arbitrarily and was a threat to the freedom of speech and and right to dissent.

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