Meanwhile, Citizens’ Collective for Safe Cyberspace has written to the Kerala government seeking concrete solutions against cyber crimes against women

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan looks on during a press conference PTI file image
news Law Sunday, October 25, 2020 - 17:35

Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC), a legal services organisation that works on technology, law, and policy, has written a letter to the Kerala Chief Minister asking the government to reconsider its decision to bring in a more stringent amendment to the Kerala Police Act to tackle cyber crimes and crimes against women online. 

Earlier this week, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had said that the Cabinet has recommended a Section 118-A which will prescribe a five-year jail sentence along with a fine of Rs 10,000 to those who “threaten, insult or harm the reputation of an individual” online.

SFLC has said that the said amendment if passed can cause a ‘chilling effect’ on the freedom of speech and expression in the state and that it can be used by law enforcement agencies to curb dissent and to clamp down on legitimate criticism of authorities and individuals. The letter also points out that the amendment seems ‘more problematic’ than Section 66A of the IT Act as well as Section 118(D) of the Kerala Police Act which were struck down as the terms used were open-ended and undefined making the statute void for vagueness. 

“The proposed section is problematic with no exceptions provided. Also, the proposed amendment could make the offence non-bailable and cognizable which is gravely concerning. We are also concerned that the said amendment will prove to be harmful to media freedom in the state,” the letter says.

SFLC has strongly urged the Kerala government to rethink the amendment and not to notify it in the current form. The existing laws in the Information Technology Act, as well as the Indian Penal Code, are sufficient to solve the menace of derogatory remarks made against individuals on social media, the letter adds. 

“We would recommend that the existing provisions in the Information Technology Act, 2000 as well as the Indian Penal Code, 1960 are sufficient to curb the menace of derogatory and defamatory social media posts. Imposing criminal sanctions against free speech offences will end up curbing dissent as well as media freedom. As a modern progressive democracy, Right to free speech and expression forms the spine of the democratic rights. We request you to have a broader consultation before introducing any law that affects the fundamental rights of citizens,” the letter says. 

Also read: Kerala mulling amending law to tackle cyber crime, experts warn of misuse

Meanwhile, to tackle the increasing number of cyber crimes against women, Citizens’ Collective for Safe Cyberspace has written to the Secretary in the Social Justice Department of the Kerala government seeking concrete solutions that will ensure the safety of women and gender minorities. The Collective has sought several measures to combat the abuse and harassment of women and minorities on social media platforms, including public consultations and panel discussions with experts, a revision of the existing legal framework, modules on gender sensitization and cyber wellness in school curriculums and the constitution of Grievance Redressal Officer in each District for the management and a follow-up and speedy management of complaints. 

The collective has also called for exhaustive and elaborate legislation (similar to Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act) in the realm of cyber crimes.

“It is our humble request that the Social Justice Department take note of the seriousness of online abuse and harassment and create a path towards concrete solutions that will ensure the safety of women and gender minorities. This issue has a profound impact on the fundamental human rights of people, in particular the right to life and the right to freedom of expression,” the letter says. 

The collective has also sought sensitivity training sessions for police officers, lawyers and call centre executives who will be interacting with the victims of such cyber crimes and harassment cases. The group also seeks some additional measures like issuance of a public apology, mandatory counselling or therapy for the abuser, the imposition of hefty fines, or other community service-oriented punishments, which can act as a deterrent owing to the culpability and embarrassment that the offender is likely to face.