There may soon be stringent provisions of punishment to deal with cases of “hate speech” and other such activities on social media. Clauses of the draconian Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000, the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), are likely to be amended to introduce stringent provisions to deal with cases of hate speech, pornography and anti-national activities on social media, sources said. 

The amendment to the IT Act will be carried out on the lines of IT laws recently enacted by the United Kingdom and the European Union. A committee set up in 2015, headed by former Law Secretary and Lok Sabha Secretary General T.K. Viswanathan, has recently submitted its recommendations and has asked the Centre to introduce stringent provisions of punishment to deal with cases of hate speech on social media. 

“After amendment, the proposed IT laws will prevent individuals from even sharing and liking the ‘hate content’ or ‘incitement of hatred’ on social media platforms. In case of violation, under the proposed IT law, a jail term of maximum three years or Rs 5,000 fine or both will be slapped on violators,” a source close to the committee told The Sunday Guardian.

“In its recommendations, the committee has given more stress on strengthening the procedures of the IPC instead of the IT Act. The committee has recommended for amendments in clauses of the IPC which prohibits incitement to hatred on cyber space,” the source quoted above said.

The committee has proposed amendments in IPC to change the definition of communication to “spoken or written words, signs, visible representation, information, audio, video, or combination of both, transmitted, retransmitted through any telecommunication service, communication device or computer resource”, according to sources.

Other suggestions of the committee include amendments to the IT Act, 2000, to create a post of a State Cyber Crime Cell (SCCC) and District Cyber Crime Cell (DCCC) respectively and amending the IPC to allow a police officer not below the rank of sub-inspector to investigate any offence under the new provisions of the IT Act, sources confirmed.

Pawan Duggal, a cyber law expert, told The Sunday Guardian: “Defining hate speech is contentious and it will be very difficult for the government to keep watch on numerous comments on social media platforms. Also, in case of encrypted messages, it will become torturous for investigative agencies to prove incitement of hatred or hate speech in courts.”

“There is no doubt that there is need for a strong IT Act , but any law must not affect the right to free speech guaranteed and protected by the Constitution,” Duggal said. 

The expert committee was set up to coming up with suggestions for strengthening IT laws after the Supreme Court had struck down Section 66A of the IT.