India’s 'Twitter Arrest'

By Prasanto Roy - 1 November, 2012

Saying that a person has amassed more wealth than Robert Vadra is now a criminal offence in India. But only if that person is the finance minister' son,

This isn't quite today's development. Thanks to an obscure section of the Information Technology Act of 2000, amended in 2008, you can harass the life out of anyone you don't like, if you happen to be in a position of power.

Mamata Banerjee used this act against the hapless JU professor who emailed to his friends a mild cartoon (bit.ly/MB-toon) featuring the lady. That triggered off outrage in media and social media, and a wave of Mamata jokes with the #arrestmenow tag on Twitter.

This time, the Twitter jokes are muted. It isn't funny any more. The threat of arrest for saying something Mr Sibal or Mr Khurshid or Mr Chidambaram don't like is uncomfortably real.

The power and arbitrariness of that section was evident in Mamata's government's interpretation. It didn't matter if the cartoon has been published somewhere; it doesn't matter who drew it: if someone emailed it to friends, you grab him and throw him in jail.

If you're a social media user in India, be afraid. Be very afraid of Section 66A of India's IT Act: it can send you to jail for three years.

All that's needed is that someone should believe that you sent "false, offensive or menacing messages using computers or communication devices...to cause annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will". It's even more sweeping: the 66A can send you to jail for sending an email message that "causes annoyance or inconvenience..."

S Ravi, a 46-year-old industrialist in Puducherry-he runs a packaging unit-tweeted on October 19 Chidambaram's son Karti had "amassed" more wealth than Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law. He was arrested and charged under section 66A. Bizarrely, the police demanded a 15-day remand, which was denied, for this was a bailable offence.

Now, technically, publishing on Twitter is not "sending a message" as mentioned in 66A. Twitter should be covered under section 67, "publishing of information". But loose interpretation is the privilege of the powerful.
Of course, there was another little reason for picking on the little-known S Ravi. He is an India Against Corruption (IAC) activist.

So Section 66A becomes a simple tool to send the kind of message that people in power like to: be careful of dissent, or of too much questioning. Be careful of associating with IAC.

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