Exchanges of individual opinions occur in a large measure in social networks (Twitter, Facebook…). In many countries social networks have scored victories against dictators and on behalf of change of government. There is a growing volume of opinion that this technology had ushered in the freedom of expression of individuals.
The number of people using and observing these networks is in millions. Political parties and leaders are seeking to enter these networks to reinforce their campaigns. It is claimed that the Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has appointed 3000 persons for campaign through social networking.
The political leaders who understand the power of social networks and use them, while freely recording their views, are not inclined to tolerate contrary views and adverse criticisms. Not bothering to register their responses to adverse criticisms, they let loose police violence on persons exhibiting contrary comments.
Many innocent persons who thought there is no risk in registering their independent views, have faced arrest. While the Indian Constitution has declared freedom of expression as a fundamental right under Article 19(1) (a), these thoughts are crushed by invoking improper legal provisions.
Two women students who had expressed their opposition to the adverse impact of a bandh enforced by Shiv Sena on the eve of the death of their leader Bal Thakkeray were arrested and the medical clinic of a relative of one of them was also attacked and vandalized. A Kolkatta professor who published a cartoon about Mamta Banerjee was arrested. A person who raised questions about the Union Finance Minister’s son was arrested in Puduchery. People, who return home with the satisfaction of having accomplished a job by registering their views in the social network, were shocked to find their doors knocked by policemen. Such incidents are on the rise.
To justify these arrests Section 66-A of the 2000 Information Technology Act is invoked. This Section provides for the arrest and three year imprisonment of persons who, through Information Technology, email or SMS has caused to anyone annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill-will. Through such vague definition, actions not covered by other Acts are sought to be treated as criminal acts. On this basis this provision is posing a big challenge to freedom of thought.
When the Mumbai students were arrested under this provision, the Supreme Court itself expressed its annoyance. It urged the government not to misuse this legal provision.
Even when the votaries of ‘freedom of thought’ urged in one voice the annulment of this Section, the Central Government has not accepted this demand. It satisfied itself by sending a Circular to the State Governments to implement this Act in a proper manner. The Central government feels that it has fulfilled its duties by issuing this Circular.
At the same time the tendency to use these networks for anti-social and illegal actions has caused concern to the enthusiasts of freedom of thought. It is gathered that in the recent communal violence which erupted in Muzafarpur city in U.P mischievous propaganda registered in social network had been a contributory factor.
Therefore, while amending the Information Technology Act, the government should ensure that evil forces misusing the social networks should be punished, at the same time safeguarding the legitimate freedom of expression.