OPINION - STRINGENT LAWS REQUIRED TO DEAL WITH FORWARDED FAKE MESSAGES
We live in an era, where having mobile phones, using social networking websites is no more considered a luxury, rather it has become a basic necessity, an integral part of people's life. With the revolution in electronic and communication technology, the data and call facility is an affordable affair for major strata of society.
Now is it very easy to send a message from one corner of the world to another? It is just a matter of a click and one can send photos, videos and other documents in a zippy manner. All these have made our lives easy, we can interact with friends or colleagues, have meetings, conferences with people in different parts of the world without the boundation of time or space.
But as we know that a coin has two faces, applying this here, when we flip the coin and look at the other side of the story, the ease of communication is also creating a menace. As said, it is very easy to spread any information from one corner to another corner, from one device to another device, it also makes job of miscreants stress free who misuse this technology to spread hatred among the masses by sending wrong information.
It is a general human tendency, we believe what we see or hear something coming from a trustworthy source; friend, relative or an influencer, then we trust without verifying the authenticity. Time and again it has been proved that it takes a very small span of time to make a message viral, it spreads like a wild forest fire. This is becoming a big problem for the law enforcing agencies as it is very difficult to find out the exact origin of such messages.
The Constitution of India under article 19(1) guarantees to every citizen the freedom of speech and expression where if we interpret this article in a wider perspective, it also includes giving views comments on social media platforms and spreading information. But it is also true that this right comes with an exception under article 19(2), where the State can make reasonable restriction on the exercise of this right in the interest of public policy, decency, morality, contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. It is very clear from the article that the State has the power and the authority to make laws restricting the freedom of speech and expression.
For handling cases relating to broadcasting messages spreading hatred among the masses, section 153A of the Indian Penal code could be applied which provides punishment for promoting enmity between two different groups on the basis of religion, race, language by means of words, signs gestures. Further the application of Section 66A of the information technology is pertinent to note here which provides for punishment for upto three years with fine, for sending offensive messages, messages which the sender knows to be false.
Section 88A of the Indian Evidence Act which talks about the presumptions as to electronic messages also explains that the Court shall not hold any presumption as to who has sent the message, but the Court may presume that the message which is forwarded is what was fed into the computer.
The United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human rights defines right to freedom of speech under article 19 in these words, Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Reading the Fundamental right of speech and expression in the Constitution of India and the above provisions of the UDHR, it becomes clear that it is a fundamental right of a person to hold opinions, express his views and opinions, but at the same time it is also necessary to put some restrictions so that it does not encroach on the rights of another person. It has been very aptly said where my right starts your freedom ends.
The issue of spreading wrong information is increasing at an alarming rate. People knowingly or unknowingly circulate messages which may have an effect on disturbing the law and order situation. It is high time India should come up with a law to tackle this issue. There are few issues for consideration while a law for this effect is drafted: -
- At the outset it would be very important to understand the origin of this information, which is a task for the law enforcing agencies.
- The issue of intention would play a prominent role here. It would be difficult to understand and monitor as to what was the intention of the person while sending/forwarding the message.
- It has to be carefully understood, which information, the persons disseminate while having the knowledge that the information is false.
- A same punishment cannot be set for sending such messages because one message can have an effect of mere argument, another message can be a defaming to any or a message can also have an effect of misbalancing a law and order situation. A different punishment has to be there for these offences taking in account the gravity of it.
It is now for everyone to understand and be responsible in how, when and which messages should be transmitted. Also it is the duty of every person to understand the impact one forward message can make.
The Author is a Lawyer and Law Faculty at Ansal University